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Discovery of ‘ultra-potent’ antibody could help with COVID, other viruses

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Posted at 6:21 AM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 09:21:35-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — An “ultra-potent” monoclonal antibody has been discovered in the fight against COVID-19, thanks to technology developed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the hospital announced Wednesday.

Vanderbilt said the technology – called LIBRA-seq, which stands for Linking B-cell Receptor to Antigen Specificity through sequencing – has helped speed up the discovery of antibodies that can neutralize multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the delta variant.

The research was published on September 15 in the journal "Cell Reports." The new discovery fights against an obstacle we're seeing already with vaccines and the delta variant. Just as vaccines are proving to be less effective against that particular variant, so too are monoclonal antibody treatments.

"Basically, some of these antibody candidates are no longer effective," said Ivelin Georgiev, the director of the Vanderbilt Program in Computational Microbiology and Immunology and associate director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation.

That's because as COVID-19 has mutated into the delta variant, the antibodies for older variants don't work as well.

"We have no guarantee that these antibodies that are out there will continue being effective against any new variants that occur," Georgiev said.

According to a release from Vanderbilt, “Georgiev and his colleagues describe the isolation of a monoclonal antibody from a patient who had recovered from COVID-19 that ‘shows potent neutralization’ against SARS-CoV-2. It also is effective against variants of the virus that are slowing efforts to control the pandemic.”

VUMC said researchers can also use the technology to screen antibodies against any current variant of COVID-19, and researchers hope even other viruses that have not yet caused human disease but have the potential of doing so.

“This is one way to proactively build a repertoire of potential therapeutics against future outbreaks,” said Georgiev. “The pathogens keep evolving, and we’re basically playing catch-up.”

The technology doesn't stop at just COVID-19. "We’ve had successful applications of this technology to HIV, influenza, hepatitis C and a few other viral targets," Georgiev said.

Georgiev said a "more proactive approach” is needed to help anticipate future outbreaks before they happen and prevent a repeat of COVID-19, “or something worse happening in the future.”

It has been a long year and a half - which is why researchers say they're happy to see this new technology offer a chance at a better tomorrow.

"Every new discovery we make adds to the hope," Georgiev said.

VUMC said LIBRA-seq was developed in 2019 by Ian Setliff, PhD, a former graduate student in Georgiev’s lab who now works in the biotechnology industry, and by Andrea Shiakolas, a current Vanderbilt graduate student.