Published: Wed, September 16, 2020
Medical | By

University of Pittsburgh scientists discover antibody that 'neutralizes' virus that causes coronavirus

University of Pittsburgh scientists discover antibody that 'neutralizes' virus that causes coronavirus

Pittsburgh scientists as soon as next year could begin testing in humans a breakthrough drug they say has the potential to stop the pandemic by treating - and even preventing - the virus that causes covid-19.

This antibody is ten times smaller than a regular-size antibody.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, including Indian-origin Sriram Subramaniam, have tried the AB8 drug on mice infected with SARS-Cov-2 in their tests.

Ab8 also showed prophylactic and therapeutic efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 infection in hamsters, as evaluated by Darryl Falzarano, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan.

"A vaccine induces antibodies", said Dr. John Mellors, chief of infectious diseases at UPMC.

"We have already discovered that one treatment, dexamethasone, benefits COVID-19 patients, but the death rate remains too high so we must keep searching for others".


The small antibody is the variable, heavy chain (VH) domain of an immunoglobulin, a kind of antibody usually found in the blood.

Ab8 was evaluated in conjunction with scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, as well as the University of British Columbia and University of Saskatchewan. In a membrane protein array assay, the team found that ab8 did not bind to any of the 5,300 human membrane-associated proteins, suggesting that it is highly specific and therefore has a low potential for off-target toxicities in vivo. Xianglei Liu of Pitt is also co-lead author of the study. His research dates back to 2003 when he discovered antibodies that had a neutralizing impact for SARS, a viral respiratory illness first reported in Asia.

Researchers are also "thinking outside the box" for how the drug could be administered, stating it may be able to be inhaled or through a superficial injection, instead of an IV.

Its small size might allow it to be given as an inhaled drug or intradermally, rather than intravenously through an IV drip, like most monoclonal antibodies now in development.

All noted how it appeared to stop the virus from entering cells. The rodents that were treated with the drug had significantly less (10-fold less of the amount) of infectious virus compared to those that were not treated. "Here, with this antibody, we're giving a uniform, potent biomolecule that's sole function is to block the virus".

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a global challenge facing humanity, but biomedical science and human ingenuity are likely to overcome it", said Dr Mellors, also Distinguished Professor of Medicine, who holds the Endowed Chair for Global Elimination of HIV and AIDS at UPMC.

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