COVID-19[feminine] vaccines have been effective in preventing people from getting seriously ill and dying from the virus, but they have required different boosters to try to stay on top of all the coronavirus variants that have emerged. Now researchers have discovered an antibody that neutralizes all known variants of COVID-19.
The antibody, called SP1-77, is the result of a collaborative effort between researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Duke University. The results of the mouse studies they conducted were recently published in the journal Sciences Immunology, and they look promising.
But what exactly does it mean to have an antibody that can neutralize all variants of COVID-19, and what kind of impact will that have on vaccines in the future? Here’s what you need to know.
What is SP1-77?
SP1-77 is an antibody developed by researchers that so far can neutralize all forms of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was created after researchers modified a mouse model originally designed to look for broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, which also mutates.
The mice used in the study have built-in human immune systems that mimic the way our immune system develops better antibodies when we are exposed to a pathogen. The researchers inserted two human gene segments into mice, which then created a range of antibodies that humans could make. The mice were then exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (which is what the virus uses to lock onto your cells) and produced nine different families of antibodies that bound to the spike protein to try to neutralize it.
The antibody works in a slightly different way than most antibodies people make against vaccines. To infect you, SARS-CoV-2 must first attach to the ACE2 receptors on your cells. Current COVID-19 vaccines prevent this binding from occurring by binding to the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at certain locations, a Press release from Boston Children’s Hospital explains.
The SP1-77 antibody also binds to the RBD, but does not prevent the virus from binding to ACE2 receptors. What is that Is do is prevent the virus from fusing its outer membrane with the membrane of your cells, which has to happen to make you sick.
“SP1-77 binds the spike protein at a site that has not been mutated in any variant so far, and it neutralizes these variants through a novel mechanism,” said study co-author Tomas Kirchhausen, PhD, in a statement. “These properties may contribute to its broad and potent activity.”
What does this mean for the future of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments?
It’s not clear at the moment. It’s important to note that this research was done on mice — not humans — although studies on the antibody are ongoing.
“This is very early-stage proof-of-concept work to illustrate that broadly neutralizing antibodies can be generated using a mouse model,” says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, expert in infectious diseases and senior investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. . “Such work, if replicated and expanded, could form the basis of new monoclonal antibody products as well as a vaccine.”
Experts say a vaccine that could eliminate all variants of COVID-19 would certainly be welcome. “We would like to have a vaccine that works against all circulating variants, including future ones,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. “It’s the holy grail of vaccines.”
That could potentially mean you only need to get a COVID-19 shot or booster once a year or even less frequently, depending on how long you’ve been protected from the vaccine, Dr. Russo says.
The researchers have filed a patent application for the SP1-77 antibody and the mouse model used to create it, and plan to create something that can be used by the general public if all goes well.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.