Newly Discovered Monkey Antibodies Could Hold Key To Vaccine Against All Coronavirus Strains

Topline

Researchers have identified monkey antibodies that are effective against numerous Covid variants and other coronaviruses, according to research published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, a discovery that could help scientists develop better vaccines and prepare for future pandemics as pharma firms race to update their shots.

Monkey antibodies could hold the key to new Covid vaccines.

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Key Facts

Rhesus macaque monkeys can generate a more comprehensive immune response to coronaviruses than humans and produce antibodies that are effective against many different coronaviruses, according to Scripps Research scientists.

When immunized with a protein from the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, the macaques produced broad-acting neutralizing antibodies—antibodies that interfere with a viruses ability to infect a cell—that responded to multiple Covid variants of concern like omicron, as well as other coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-1, which caused the global SARS outbreak in 2003.

The scientists said the antibodies target part of the virus that stays the same across many different coronaviruses and is less likely to mutate over time, something that could possibly open the door to new vaccines that work against multiple Covid variants.

Dennis Burton, who chairs the department of immunology and microbiology and is co-senior author of the study, said it is important to consider the genetic differences behind antibody responses in macaques and humans, with the latter producing a “potent but much narrower neutralizing antibody response.”

The differences highlight the limitations of studying the effects of vaccines in monkeys, Burton said, but also illuminate new targets for our vaccine efforts.

Key Background

The ever changing nature of pathogens, particularly rapidly mutating viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and influenza, means vaccines are usually developed in hindsight. These shots target known entities, either existing threats or those that experts believe will be threats by the time the shots are needed. This creates a dangerous margin of error as experts can err in their predictions or the vaccine may not be produced fast enough. Covid-19 vaccines, though made at Warp Speed, fell into this second camp, with much of the world’s daily activities suspended as experts raced to produce a vaccine against the new virus. These vaccines, still based on the original Covid strain identified, are highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, though their ability to prevent new infections has waned with the advent of new variants and drugmakers are hurrying to test new formulas addressing them. A pan-coronavirus vaccine targeting a more conserved, or common, region of the virus could eliminate the need to keep retooling vaccines in the future.

Tangent

A pan-coronavirus vaccine could also help protect against other pandemic threats. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly tracks—though some doubt remains—SARS-CoV-2 to a wet market in Wuhan, China, where it is believed to have crossed over into humans from an animal. Other coronaviruses like those behind SARS and MERS are also linked to similar spillover events and experts warn of the risk other pathogens pose when jumping the species barrier. Many of these viruses are unknown and recent research suggests tens of thousands of people are infected with bat coronaviruses each year. The conserved part of the virus targeted by these antibodies could also help protect against these unknown viruses if it is present there as well.

Further Reading

Why efforts to make better, more universal coronavirus vaccines are struggling (Science)

Tens of thousands of people exposed to bat coronaviruses each year (Nature)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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