Scientists find antibodies that block all the COVID-19 variants

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Scientists from Johns Hopkins University found 30 antibodies that recognize a wide range of coronaviruses—successfully blocking not only all the SARS-CoV-2 variants that were tested but also other, related viruses, including SARS-CoV-1, which caused the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia.

The antibodies involved were all isolated from people with “hybrid immunity,” meaning they had been both infected with SARS-CoV-2 and later vaccinated against the virus.

The findings are a step toward the next generation of coronavirus vaccines, which may help defend against a broader swath of viruses than do current vaccines, which specifically target SARS-CoV-2.

The research is published in Nature Immunology and was conducted by Yana Safonova et al.

As researchers develop new treatments and vaccines for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many are also working to prevent the next pandemic.

A vaccine that helps the immune system recognize not only SARS-CoV-2 variants but also other SARS-causing coronaviruses could stop these viruses from spreading throughout the population.

In the study, the team compared antibody responses elicited in 21 people who had recovered from COVID-19, 10 people who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, and 15 with hybrid immunity from both.

People with hybrid immunity showed the strongest and broadest spectrum of antibodies, able to neutralize—or block—five variants of SARS-CoV-2 (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and omicron), SARS-CoV-1, as well as a pangolin coronavirus and one from horseshoe bats in China.

They found that no antibodies from the vaccination-only or infection-only group could neutralize all the viruses.

The team isolated 107 antibodies from two hybrid immunity donors, screening for molecules that could bind to both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins.

Then they focused on 30 of those antibodies, many of which also neutralized the bat and pangolin coronaviruses.

And most of those 30 antibodies, they found, recognized the same part of the viruses’ structures, called the receptor-binding domain on the spike protein.

The 30 antibodies also had similarities when it came to how they were produced by the body, an important clue for researchers in how to design vaccines that prompt the immune system to produce the same antibodies.

The team says if they are able to induce these antibodies by vaccination, they will likely give people broad protection against diverse SARS-like viruses.

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