A synthetic antibody could prevent and treat COVID-19 [study]

According to a recent study in mice, the researchers were able to develop a synthetic antibody to neutralize SARS-CoV-2. This could help prevent infection as well as treat COVID-19 disease in those diagnosed.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a huge burden on public health, but has already significantly affected civil society and the global economy. Until the development of a vaccine, scientists are trying to neutralize the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, using a synthetic antibody.

According to a recent study in mice, the researchers were able to develop a synthetic antibody to neutralize SARS-CoV-2. This could help prevent infection as well as treat COVID-19 disease in those diagnosed.

SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus, enters cells in the body using a receptor called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ECA2). Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 is present on the surface of cells in the airways and lungs. After a person inhales viral particles, proteins outside the coronavirus attach to this receptor, allowing the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus to enter cells and cause COVID-19.

In an adult human lung, ECA2 is present on the surface of type II alveolar epithelial cells in the airways and lungs. Injury to these cells could explain the severe lung damage seen in patients with COVID-19. ECA2 is also present in multiple extrapulmonary tissues, including the heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and intestine. The distribution of ECA2 receptors in these organs may explain the dysfunction of several organs seen in patients with COVID-19. Other coronaviruses, including the one behind the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002, also attach to the enzyme ECA2.

Researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA, have now developed an antibody that stops the new coronavirus from attaching to the ECA2 receptor, eventually preventing infection 1.

The researchers say that health professionals could use the antibody both before and after a person has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and that it could be particularly beneficial for people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons. In an effort to fool the virus, the researchers behind the study devised a synthetic antibody that intercepts the virus’s neutralization before it attaches to the ACE2 and causes the infection.

According to a recently published study 2, ECA2 is the critical receptor for coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The role of this receptor is to protect the lungs from damage. ECA2 has now been identified as a key receptor for SARS-CoV-2 infections. Although scientists have used ECA2 in a soluble and safe form for humans, it generally does not stay in the body for long and cannot touch the lining of the lungs – which is crucial for treating a respiratory virus.

To overcome these problems, the research team that developed the synthetic antibody attached ECA2 to it to increase its stability and facilitate transport in the body. They created four different antibodies, each with different mutations, to increase the ability of the synthetic antibody to attach to the new coronavirus, its stability, and the half-life of the coronavirus — that is, the time it takes to halve its potency.

All antibodies worked against SARS-CoV-2, but one, called MDR504, was much more effective compared to the others. The new coronavirus has become more closely attached to this antibody than to the ECA2 receptor in the body.

Effective treatment against COVID-19?
In the next phase of their experiments, the researchers tested the synthetic antibody in cultured cells using a pseudovirus very similar to SARS-CoV-2. They found that MDR504 effectively neutralized the virus and prevented it from attaching to the body’s cells. These data support that MDR504 is an excellent candidate for pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis and even in the treatment of COVID-19.

The researchers injected the mice included in the study with this synthetic antibody, where it reached the lungs at levels high enough to stop the new coronavirus from entering the cells lining these organs. Moreover, after six days, half of the amount of synthetic antibody injected was still in the body of the mice used in the study.

Dual purpose synthetic antibody
The researchers also say that this synthetic antibody could have a dual purpose: it could be used to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and as a treatment for COVID-19.

Initially, they suggested its administration to high-risk groups, such as medical staff and the first patients infected with the new coronavirus, to prevent them from contracting SARS-CoV-2 again.

Because the drug is an antibody, it should be injected into the body. If administered orally, the body would break it down in the intestine. However, because it also has a long half-life, these injections may be relatively rare, the researchers suggest. Based on the data obtained, experts believe that this synthetic antibody would work as an injection that should be given once every two weeks or maybe even once a month.

Healthcare professionals could use this synthetic antibody instead of a vaccine if they are too vulnerable to receive one, for example, people who are receiving immunosuppressive therapy for an organ transplant or have an autoimmune condition. The research team has already started to glue drill with a biotechnology company to further develop this treatment and begin the necessary clinical trials in humans. Until then, specialists still recommend respecting social distance, wearing masks in enclosed public spaces, frequent hand washing with soap and water, and in its absence, using a hand gel with 70% alcohol, such as Guard X, and avoiding areas crowded.

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