Since spreading from an animal “reservoir” within the ecosystem to humans, the coronavirus or SARS‑CoV has caused over 250,000 deaths. Biotech companies and university labs have been racing to find a vaccine or antiviral treatment.
Now a team of biotech researchers at Utrecht University, Erasmus Medical Center, and Harbour BioMed believe they’re within reach of a coronavirus cure. The team published a report on May 4 in Nature Communications. It details a unique protein that blocks coronavirus from infecting new cells.
This research builds on the work our groups have done in the past on antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV that emerged in 2002/2003. Using this collection of SARS-CoV antibodies, we identified an antibody that also neutralizes infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells. Such a neutralizing antibody has potential to alter the course of infection in the infected host, support virus clearance, or protect an uninfected individual that is exposed to the virus.
The antibody, called 47D11, gives the SARS coronavirus a taste of its own medicine. It inhibits the virus in a way that’s similar to how the virus invades human cells and hijacks them to create more coronaviruses instead of more copies of themselves.
The coronavirus gets its name from the spikes that stick out from its central structure. When they first saw it up close, the virus reminded scientists of how the sun’s corona looks emanating from the solar surface. Coronavirus uses those spikes like a key to unlock a particular part of the host cell and inject the virus’ genetic material like malicious code.
Well, 47D11 fights fire with fire. The researchers said it identifies a part of the coronavirus’ spikey exterior called the epitope to unlock and hack its way in. Then the antibody neutralizes the spike’s ability to key its way into cells, rendering the virus harmless. The team found the antibody neutralizes the virus in cell cultures. The next step would be animal testing and human trials.
Potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance of the race for a cure or vaccine. Meanwhile, markets are holding out hope for a coronavirus treatment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen and fallen dramatically on coronavirus vaccine breakthroughs and setbacks.
A CNBC commentator said in March that a coronavirus vaccine is even more critical for equities markets than financial stimulus from the Federal Reserve. In other words, a working coronavirus treatment is worth trillions to the economy.
This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.