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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Ask Dr. Nandi: Blood from SARS survivor yields an antibody that neutralizes new coronavirus

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 27, 2020

A potent antibody has been found that neutralizes the coronavirus and blocks it from entering human cells. The antibody, called S309, is being fast-tracked for development and testing.

The S309 antibody was actually discovered in a patient who had SARS back in 2003 - and had recovered from it. Scientists had previously found neutralizing antibodies for SARS in this person’s blood samples and had been studying them.

Why that’s important is because we know that the new coronavirus is very similar to SARS, so it makes sense to do further analysis on this patient’s blood. And not only did the researchers find the S309 antibody that they refer to as “potent”. But they also found other weaker antibodies. And when they were combined, creating an antibody cocktail with S309, they “further enhanced the neutralization” of the coronavirus.

Neutralizing antibodies mean that they can block a pathogen from infecting human cells. A good analogy is to think of a locked door to a house. The only way in is with the right key.

Now the virus has little spike proteins on it - so think of those as the key. Once it unlocks the human cell, it hijacks it and starts duplicating itself, making thousands of copies.

Now what the scientists discovered, is that the S309 antibody has a strong ability to bind to those spike proteins, basically disabling it and stopping it from interacting with the cell. So in theory, the key doesn’t fit and the virus is not able to make copies of itself.

It has not been tested on humans yet, only in a lab setting. Which is why the scientists are fast-tracking the development of the antibody. They want to start human clinical trials using genetically engineered versions of S309 sometime this summer.

The researchers feel that their drug candidates could possibly work as a treatment or as prevention for COVID-19. Time will certainly tell, and we can always keep our fingers crossed that the antibody will show to be just as effective in humans as it was in lab dishes.

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