Press release
Lausanne, 12 octobre 2021 - 17:00

Scientists discover highly potent antibody effective against SARS-CoV-2 variants

Scientists at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and EPFL have discovered a highly potent monoclonal antibody that targets the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and is effective at neutralizing all variants of concern identified to date, including the delta variant. Their findings, published in the prestigious journal Cell Reports, pave the way to promising new therapeutic applications for protecting at-risk individuals, such as immunocompromised patients. The new antibody could also be used as a combination therapy in SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals.

©iStockphoto Broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, binding antibodies that target multiple conserved sites on the spike (S) protein

The newly identified antibody was isolated using lymphocytes from COVID-19 patients enrolled in the ImmunoCoV study being carried out by CHUV’s Service of Immunology and Allergy. This antibody is one of the most powerful identified so far against SARS-CoV-2. Structural characterization of the antibody indicates that it binds to an area that is not subjected to mutations of the spike protein. Through this tight interaction, the antibody blocks the spike protein from binding to cells expressing the ACE2 receptor, which is the receptor the virus uses to enter and infect lung cells. That means the antibody halts the viral replication process, enabling a patient’s immune system to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 from the body. This protective mechanism was proven through in vivo tests on hamsters; specimens that were administered the antibody were protected against infection even after receiving a highly infectious dose.

In addition to its antiviral properties, the new antibody is designed to have a lasting effect in humans. A typical unaltered antibody provides protection for up to 3–4 weeks. But this new one can protect patients for 4–6 months. That makes it an interesting preventive-treatment option for unvaccinated at-risk individuals or for vaccinated individuals who are unable to produce an immune response. Immunocompromised patients, organ transplant recipients and those suffering from certain kinds of cancer could be protected against SARS-CoV-2 by receiving antibody injections two or three times a year.

CHUV and EPFL now plan to build on these promising results in association with a start-up company, which will perform clinical development and production of the antibody-containing drug, through cooperation and intellectual property agreements. Clinical trials of the drug should begin in late 2022.

This research was conducted jointly by CHUV’s Service of Immunology and Allergy, headed by Prof. Giuseppe Pantaleo and Dr. Craig Fenwick, and by EPFL’s Laboratory of Virology and Genetics, headed by Prof. Didier Trono and Dr. Priscilla Turelli. The research team was able to respond to the pandemic and discover this neutralizing antibody so quickly thanks to the multi-year support of the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute. Prof. Pantaleo’s department at CHUV also received support from the Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe (CARE) program, which is part of the Innovative Medicine Initiative (IMI) – a public-private partnership that seeks to address bottlenecks in the drug discovery and development process in Europe.

The discovery of this new antibody marks a major step forward in the fight against COVID-19. It opens the door to improved treatments for severe forms of the disease and to enhanced prophylactic measures, especially for patients with weakened immune systems. However, this antibody is not intended to replace COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the most effective way to prevent infection.

For more informations
CHUV medias(at)chuv.ch / +41 79 556 60 00
EPFL presse(at)epfl.ch / +41 21 693 21 90

About EPFL

EPFL (www.epfl.ch), one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, based in Lausanne, is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society. 

About Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

CHUV is one of Switzerland’s five university hospitals, alongside Geneva, Bern, Basel and Zurich. It is tasked with three basic missions by the public authorities, namely care, teaching and research. It provides care in all areas of medicine, including physical disorders and psychiatric illnesses, medical and surgical disciplines, outpatient and inpatient treatment.

In 2020, CHUV’s 11,942 employees cared for 48,227 inpatients, accounting for over 456,974 days of hospitalisation. It dealt with 75,457 emergencies, provided 1,346,973 outpatient consultations and welcomed 3,180 new babies into the world. Its annual budget is 1.782 billion Swiss francs.

CHUV works closely with the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University of Lausanne to provide undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education for doctors. It also works with other higher education institutions in the Lake Geneva area (including EPFL, ISREC, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Geneva), with the University Hospitals of Geneva and other hospitals, health care providers and institutions, such as the Federation of Vaud Hospitals and the Vaud Society of Medicine.

CHUV has been ranked as one of the 10 best hospitals in the world since 2019 according to Newsweek magazine.