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Coronavirus breakthrough: German scientist find antibodies blocks infection by SARS-CoV-2 in cells 

18:31 | 06/05/2020

Scientists have detected an antibody that is capable of blocking the coronavirus from entering cells, providing a much-needed shield for severely ill patients. The discovery is an initial step towards developing a fully human antibody to treat or prevent deadly respiratory disease. 

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Researchers at Utrecht University, Erasmus Medical Center and Harbour BioMed (HBM) reported that they have identified a fully human monoclonal antibody that prevents the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus from infecting cultured cells.

The discovery was published May 4 in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The research builds on the work done in the paston antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV that emerged in 2002/2003, according to Berend-Jan Bosch, Associate Professor, research leader at Utrecht University, and co-lead author of the Nature Communications study.

"Using this collection of SARS-CoV antibodies, we identified an antibody that also neutralizes infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells. Such a neutralizing antibody has the potential to alter the course of infection in the infected host, support virus clearance or protect an uninfected individual that is exposed to the virus”, Science Daily quoted Berend as saying.

Dr. Bosch noted that the antibody binds to a domain that is conserved in both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, explaining its ability to neutralize both viruses. "This cross-neutralizing feature of the antibody is very interesting and suggests it may have potential in mitigation of diseases caused by future-emerging related coronaviruses”, he told RT.

coronavirus breakthrough german scientist find antibodies blocks infection by sars cov 2 in cells
SARS-CoV-2 concept illustration (Photo: Adobe Stock)

“This is clearly a breakthrough that shows we are on the right track for the development of a drug against Covid-19,” virologist Professor Luka Cicin-Sain told Science Daily. “In repeated experiments, we were able to show that this result is sustainable.”

"This discovery provides a strong foundation for additional research to characterize this antibody and begin development as a potential COVID-19 treatment," said Frank Grosveld, PhD. co-lead author on the study, Academy Professor of Cell Biology, adding that the antibody used in this work is 'fully human,' allowing development to proceed more rapidly and reducing the potential for immune-related side effects.

Cicin-Sain and his team analyzed 6,000 different human antibodies and found more than 750 that dock with the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading further in already infected patients. The antibodies are currently undergoing additional testing on cell cultures to whittle their number down to find the most effective at blocking the infection, RT reported.

“I am extremely happy about this great success of the research institutes in Lower Saxony, which gives hope for better healing results with Covid-19,” said Lower Saxony's Minister of Science Bjorn Thumler.

To be clear, the researchers are neither producing a vaccine nor a cure, but instead a potentially highly effective treatment for severely ill coronavirus patients which operates on the principle of “so-called passive immunization,” according to Stefan Dübel from the Technical University of Braunschweig, who added that “The effect is immediate: the antibodies take the potential away from the virus.”

The team, who worked in collaboration with biotech company Yumab, is hoping to begin clinical trials in the autumn.

Meanwhile, the broad-spectrum antiviral medication Remdesivir – originally developed to treat the Ebola and Marburg viruses – is being used in trials with coronavirus patients, despite its apparent ineffectiveness in follow-up tests, after one study found the drug shortened coronavirus infection recovery times.

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