Scientists Discover a Human Antibody that Prevents the Coronavirus from Infecting Cells

Scientists Discover a Human Antibody that Prevents the Coronavirus from Infecting Cells

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly across the globe infecting more than 5.4M people worldwide and killing more than 349,000 people so far. Across the globe, researchers are tirelessly working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. A team in the Netherlands, at Utrecht University, Erasmus Medical Center and Harbour BioMed (HBM) have reported the discovery of an antibody that stops the virus from being able to infect cells. These results have been published in Nature Communications (, and heralds tangible progress on the road to creating an effective vaccine.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, belongs to the same group of viruses as SARS-CoV. This earlier strain was responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003. Research on this earlier strain identified 51 antibodies that targeted it. The Utrecht University researchers assessed whether any of these antibodies would have an effect on the strain now causing the worldwide pandemic and identified a possible candidate – an antibody known as 47D11.

“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 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.” – Berend-Jan Bosch, Associate Professor, Research leader at Utrecht University, and co-lead author of the Nature Communications study.

This antibody attaches to the surface of the virus, targeting proteins called trimeric spike (S) glycoproteins, disrupting the virus’ ability to infect cells. The ability of this antibody to neutralize different strains of the corona virus is extremely interesting as it not only holds potential to treat the current outbreak but could help mitigate diseases caused by future related coronaviruses.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction and an exciting discovery, the researchers caution against celebrating too soon. Although the antibody is one obtained from human samples, thus far tests have only taken place in cultured cells. Unfortunately, findings from in vitro work do not always translate into in vivo studies.  Therefore, a great deal of research still needs to be conducted including clinical trials before it can be said whether this antibody is appropriate for use in a vaccine.

A positive point regarding this discovery is that, while most therapeutic antibodies are commonly developed in other species before being adapted to make them compatible with the human immune system, 47D11 is already a human antibody. This means that future research involving this antibody should be able to be conducted fairly rapidly. As it is already human in origin, it is also less likely to cause immune-related side effects.

“This is groundbreaking research,” said Dr. Jingsong Wang, Founder, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of HBM. “Much more work is needed to assess whether this antibody can protect or reduce the severity of disease in humans. We expect to advance development of the antibody with partners. We believe our technology can contribute to addressing this most urgent public health need and we are pursuing several other research avenues.”


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Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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