Vir Biotechnology, Inc. (Nasdaq: VIR), a clinical-stage immunology company focused on immune approaches to treating and preventing serious infectious diseases, today announced that it has identified two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that bind to SARS-CoV-2 (previously known as “2019-nCoV”), which were originally found because they bind and neutralize the original SARS-CoV. The antibodies target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in the region that the virus uses to enter cells through the cellular receptor ACE2. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 causes the newly named disease, Covid-19.
“We are in the process of assessing neutralization with a pseudo-virus,”said GeorgeScangos,Ph.D.,CEOofVir.“Inaddition,weareworkingwith international partners to assess the capacity of these antibodies to neutralize the live virus, SARS-CoV-2.”
The company is moving ahead with research to determine if its antibodies, or additional antibodies that it may be able to identify, can be effective as treatment and/or prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2. To that end, the company is exploring collaborations with a number of other companies and governmental agencies. Amongst these are specific efforts at accessing manufacturing capacity globally.
“We are pleased that, using the same platform that was used to isolate mAb114 which has proven to be active against Ebola, we have quickly identified antibodies with potential biological activity against SARS-CoV-2,” said Herbert “Skip” Virgin, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Vir. “We are working as rapidly as possible and look forward to sharing more information as we have it.”
Vir identified these antibodies from an existing library of 20 fully human antibodies that bind and neutralize related coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV and coronaviruses that infect animals. This library was built through a robust method for capitalizing on unusually successful immune responses naturally occurring in people who are protected from, or have recovered from, infectious diseases, including those caused by rapidly evolving and/or previously untreatable pathogens.
Antibody-based therapies are different from vaccines and have distinct attributes that may make them potentially valuable, particularly in pandemic settings:
Antibodies can be therapeutic and prophylactic, meaning they can be used as a treatment for people who have been infected and can also protect people who have been, or may be, exposed to infection. Whereas a vaccine requires an individual to make an immune response, which can take weeks and be insufficient, an antibody provides the immune response, which can be effective within hours of injection and is not dependent upon the individual making an immune response to the pathogen.
Antibodies can be engineered to have an extended half-life of several months or more.
Vir is investigating other approaches to identify additional potential therapies for SARS-CoV-2. In addition to testing these two antibodies, the company is also exploring the isolation of new antibodies specific for this virus using its antibody technology platform. These efforts may allow additional approaches to address this rapidly emerging public health epidemic.