COVID-19: The Importance of Antibody Treatment Before There Is a Vaccine
Antibodies are paramount to the body's response to a viral infection. Once developed, they can protect the individual from becoming ill after reinfection with a certain pathogen.
Antibody tests have been announced as a decisive weapon against the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been a major focus of the UK Government, which ordered 3.5 million home tests in late March. Recently, the United States asked manufacturers to submit applications for emergency use authorization for antibody testing. Despite early difficulties in finding and purchasing tests that were reliable and accurate enough, two large and experienced diagnostic and medical device companies, Abbott and Roche, have developed antibody tests and hope to implement them in the next month or so.
Antibody tests are serological tests that determine if a person has had Covid-19 and then recovered; they differ from diagnostic tests that simply show whether a person is infected at the time of the test.
They do this by looking for proteins called antibodies in the bloodstream. Having antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, means that a person's immune system, in theory, will be able to identify, attack, and fight the infection if the person becomes infected again. The precise strength of immunity that these antibodies confer on infected people is still unknown.
Antibody testing will not only allow governments around the world to understand how many people have immunity to the new coronavirus, but will also improve the epidemiological understanding of the virus's lethality and how it has spread globally. The precise antibodies developed against Covid-19 are also invaluable in discovering therapies to treat patients.
Although vaccines are essential for conferring future immunity and protection against Covid-19 by safely encouraging the body to develop the correct antibody against the coronavirus, it will take time to get to that point. "It's a 2021 thing," says Eric Hobbs, CEO of Berkeley Lights. However, he argues that "in the meantime, there is something that will help: antibody therapy." Antibody therapy may be available in late summer, SynBioBeta founder and CEO John Cumbers said during a webinar on Covid-19 and antibodies.
The challenge is finding the antibodies, and that's where Berkeley Lights and its Beacon system come in. The Beacon system can find B cells that secrete the correct antibody against a disease in less than 10 hours, and is focused on finding neutralizing antibodies, as well as binders and blockers. Although Berkeley Lights initially did this for transgenic mice, the company now passes the patient's blood through the system to detect "plasma B cells in an acute patient or memory cells" for use as a therapeutic base.
Berkeley Lights' focus is to support academic and industry partners in identifying antibodies to anti-Covid-19 drugs. "Collaborations are probably one of the most fantastic things about what is happening in the world today," says Hobbs. The company's international partners include Vanderbilt University Medical Center and GenScript China.
During the SynBioBeta webinar, Distributed Bio CEO and Netflix documentary star Pandemic Jake Glanville noted that his company's approach to addressing Covid-19 is to create generally applicable antibody medications that target "widely neutralizing, non-mutant sites in viruses; We know they exist in influenza and HIV, and now we have them in coronaviruses. "
Having widely neutralizing antibodies against classes of viruses would mean that when a pandemic breaks out, there is only a need to test for efficacy. "Then we win the battle against pathogens; outbreaks are never as severe as they could be, as we have standard therapy to react quickly, "said Glanville. The key is to find the weakness of a virus class first.
Unfortunately, this has not been done previously due to lack of political or financial will, added Professor James Crowe of Vanderbilt University during the webinar discussion. However, responding to this pandemic has done great harm to the global economy, so there is a good chance that Covid-19 will transform attitudes to pandemic preparedness.