Hope for antibody therapy against Covid-19

HZI researchers confirm neutralizing effect of YUMAB antibodies against SARS-CoV-2

Neutralizing antibodies are the interceptors of our immune system. They bind precisely to pathogens and prevent them from entering our cells. After an infection, the immune system needs about two weeks to produce mature antibodies. In severe cases of Covid-19, the body's immune reaction often comes too late for the patient. One option for acute treatment would therefore be to administer antibodies to the patients that are immediately effective. Recent results of the CORAT Consortia, especially from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with the Technische Universität Braunschweig and the company YUMAB, have led to a breakthrough in the development of fully human antibodies for immune therapies.

Portrait of HZI virologist Luka Cicin-Sain in front of a bookshelfVirologist Luka Cicin-Sain studies antibodies, isolated by Technische Universität and YUMAB, that neutralize SARS-CoV-2 © HZI / Jan Brinkmann A team of virologists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), together with the Technische Universität (TU) Braunschweig and the biotech company YUMAB, has succeeded in identifying antibodies from their antibody libraries that neutralise the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The researchers have screened more than 6,000 human antibodies for this purpose. The company YUMAB is a spin-off of the TU Braunschweig and located on the Science Campus Braunschweig Süd. It specializes in the biotechnological discovery and development of fully human antibodies. In a first step, the scientists discovered more than 700 candidate antibodies that bind to the coronavirus surface. These were handed over to the HZI to test in the biological safety laboratories whether they could prevent the viruses from entering host cells. Neutralization is crucial to whether an antibody can fight the virus infection. “With our biological safety level 3 laboratory at the HZI, we have both the infrastructure and the expertise for these studies,” says Prof Luka Cicin-Sain, head of the Department “Immune Aging and Chronic Infections”. Together with his team, he was able to identify a candidate from YUMAB’s antibodies that efficiently neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 and prevents its uptake into the cells. This stops the pathogen from spreading in the body.

This antibody must now undergo numerous safety tests before it can be used in patients. “The CORAT Consortia expects clinical trials to begin in autumn,” says Cicin-Sain. The breakthrough in the development of antibody therapies is the result of combining the expertise in antibody generation and virus neutralization available in Braunschweig. “I am extremely pleased about this great success of the research institutions in Lower Saxony, which gives hope for better therapies against Covid-19,” said Lower Saxony's Minister of Science Björn Thümler to the Braunschweiger Zeitung.

Further information on the CORAT Consortia is available here.

Further information on the antibody-producing technology can be found on the YUMAB website.

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