July 23, 2020

Based on positive results published as preclinical studies, potently neutralizing antibodies show promise as a therapy for preventing and treating COVID-19.

The monoclonal antibodies were isolated from the blood of a couple from Wuhan, China, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 after traveling to Toronto, Canada, in late January. They were two of the earliest confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North America.

During the past two years, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have developed ultra-fast methods for discovering highly potent antiviral human monoclonal antibodies and validating their ability to protect small animals and non-human primates. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, meanwhile, have been conducting an array of studies related to the novel coronavirus, including previous collaborations with VUMC on the antiviral drug remdesivir.

Reporting July 10 in the journal Nature Medicine, VUMC and Gillings researchers, along with colleagues from across the country, described how they used the rapid antibody discovery platform to isolate hundreds of human monoclonal antibodies against the surface spike (S) protein that enables SARS-CoV-2 to infect lung cells and cause COVID-19.

In a July 15 paper published in the journal Nature, researchers explained how two of the antibodies, COV2-2196 and COV2-2130, bind to distinct sites on the S protein and either alone or in combination reduce the viral “burden” in infected mice and protect them from weight loss and lung inflammation.

They also found that COV2-2196 and another potent antibody, COV2-2381, given alone protected rhesus macaques from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Collectively, the results suggest that these monoclonal antibodies, either alone or in combination, “are promising candidates for prevention or treatment of COVID-19.”

Dr. Ralph Baric

Dr. Ralph Baric

Dr. Lisa Gralinksi

Dr. Lisa Gralinski

Gillings School researchers who contributed to the most recent antibody study are Alexandra Schäfer, research associate; David R. Martinez, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow; Lisa Gralinski, PhD, assistant professor; and Ralph Baric, PhD, William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor, all in the Department of Epidemiology.

In June, the global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca licensed one set of the antibodies described in the Nature paper for clinical evaluation and development. IDBiologics, a Nashville-based biotechnology firm, has licensed a separate set of the antibodies. Both companies are planning clinical trials this summer.

Other academic partners in the research include:Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School in Boston; Emory University in Atlanta; the University of Washington in Seattle; the University of Toronto, Canada; and Leipzig University in Germany.

In addition to AstraZeneca, corporate partners include California-based Berkeley Lights Inc.; 10x Genomics; and Twist Bioscience.

Major funding sources included the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Department of Defense; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany; and the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund at Vanderbilt.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

Recent News