Immunotherapy based on antibody research being developed by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute researcher Dr Horacio Bach could provide short-term protection against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Dr Horacio Bach and his team hope a temporary antibody-based treatment will help the immune system clear the COVID-19 virus from the body without inducing inflammation or a cytokine storm. Dr Bach, study co-lead Dr Ted Steiner, and their team are developing single-chain antibodies that would neutralize proteins the COVID-19 virus employs to infiltrate cells. Though there are millions of potential antibodies to choose from, Bach and his team have already identified over 20 hopefuls since beginning their research in April.
The researchers are using a novel approach involving a bacterial system to screen the antibodies. An antibody attached to a noninfectious virus is injected into a bacterium, and after a processing step, researchers check whether that blocks viral proteins used by COVID-19 to infiltrate host cells. Several protective antibodies against COVID-19 are being sought, as the virus possesses a multitude of protein keys to unlock the body’s cells. The ideal therapy would contain an antibody cocktail that can guard against multiple lines of viral attack.
The therapy may be delivered via an inhaler for short-term security from the virus, with the goal being for a dose to shield against the virus for several hours or more until protective antibodies are processed and expelled from the body—long enough to catch a flight, go to an appointment, or see a loved one.
The novel coronavirus infects mostly primary airway epithelial cells. Once these cells are infected, white blood cell antibodies (macrophages) attack the virus-containing cells and internalize them. Problematically, COVID-19 also infects macrophages with its protein key, which can lead to a heightened and potentially deadly cytokine storm. Bach’s therapy could sidestep this problem by encapsulating COVID-19 with antibodies that would not infect macrophages, giving the body a leg up on slowing and stopping the disease.
Dr Bach is an adjunct professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of British Columbia and manager of the Immunity and Infection Research Centre Proteomic and Antibody Engineering Facility. He anticipates that this approach will enter human trials by spring 2021.
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