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Immunity Antibodies Offer Hope in COVID-19 Fight

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There’s hopeful news in the fight against COVID-19, as scientists around the world race against time and the virus’s evolution.

An international team of scientists recently identified antibodies that can neutralize COVID-19 and other variants, including omicron — an advance that could lead to new treatments and therapeutics in the near future.

The antibodies target areas of the virus spike protein that are conserved (or essentially unchanged) as the viruses mutate, according to Dr. David Veesler, the University of Washington medical school investigator who led the research team.

“This finding tells us that by focusing on antibodies that target these highly conserved sites on the spike protein, there is a way to overcome the virus’ continual evolution,” he said on the university’s website.

“The main questions we were trying to answer were how has this constellation of mutations in the spike protein of the omicron variant affected its ability to bind to cells and to evade the immune system’s antibody responses.”

In the course of their research, the team identified one antibody, which they designated S2K146, that was particularly effective in targeting the virus’s spike protein and protecting cells from infection.

Multiple studies showed how S2K146 protected cells from infection with the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, as well as the alpha, beta, delta, kappa and omicron variants.

“Our findings suggest it’s a very good candidate for clinical development as monoclonal antibody treatment,” Veesler said.

The researchers reported their findings in the scientific journal Nature on December 23 and again in a study published in the academic journal Science on January 6.

“The discovery of S2K146 might be a milestone for future treatment of COVID-19 patients and for pandemic preparedness against divergent sarbecoviruses [the subgenus that contains zoonotic coronaviruses],” the latter study said.

The latest surge of global coronavirus infections is tied to the omicron variant, which was detected in Southern Africa late in 2021. It has 37 mutations in the spike protein that it uses to latch onto and invade cells.

A massive surge in early December saw the delta and omicron variants fuel an 83% rise in infections on the continent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of new infections doubled every five days — the shortest span observed by the WHO in 2021.

In a recent briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned of “a tsunami of cases” that could overwhelm health systems around the world.

“This virus will continue to evolve and threaten our health systems if we don’t improve the collective response,” he said in his weekly COVID-19 briefing on December 29.

That’s exactly what the University of Washington researchers are looking to do.

Dr. Lexi Walls, who works with Veesler, hopes to see new treatments and preventive medicines that make use of antibodies like S2K146 that can neutralize a broad spectrum of coronaviruses.

“So we’re saying, ‘Hey, immune system, respond to these common elements,’” Walls told Seattle’s NBC television station. “No matter what variant comes, you have the defenses and you’re ready.”

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