Antibody Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Shows Promise in Fight Against COVID-19

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 15, 2020) – Based on positive results in preclinical studies reported today, potently neutralizing antibodies identified by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) are showing promise as a potential therapy for preventing and treating COVID-19.

The monoclonal antibodies were isolated from the blood of a couple from Wuhan, China, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 after traveling to Toronto, Canada, in late January. They were two of the earliest confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North America.

During the past two years, VUMC researchers led by James Crowe, Jr., MD, and Robert Carnahan, PhD, have developed ultra-fast methods for discovering highly potent antiviral human monoclonal antibodies and validating their ability to protect small animals and non-human primates, all in less than three months.

Reporting last week in the journal Nature Medicine, the researchers and colleagues from across the country describe how they used this rapid antibody discovery platform to isolate hundreds of human monoclonal antibodies against the surface spike (S) protein that enables SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to infect lung cells.

In a separate report published today in the journal Nature, VUMC scientists and their colleagues describe how two of the antibodies, COV2-2196 and COV2-2130, bind to distinct sites on the S protein and either alone or in combination reduce the viral “burden” in infected mice and protect them from weight loss and lung inflammation.

They also found that COV2-2196 and another potent antibody, COV2-2381, given alone protected rhesus macaques from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Collectively these results suggest that these monoclonal antibodies, either alone or in combination, “are promising candidates for prevention or treatment of COVID-19,” the researchers concluded.

Last month the global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca licensed from Vanderbilt University one set of the antibodies described in the Nature paper for clinical evaluation and development. IDBiologics, a Nashville-based biotechnology firm, has licensed a separate set of the antibodies. Both companies are planning clinical trials this summer.

VUMC’s academic partners in the research included Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School in Boston, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Washington in Seattle, the University of Toronto, Canada, and Leipzig University in Germany.

In addition to AstraZeneca, corporate partners included California-based Berkeley Lights Inc., 10x Genomics and Twist Bioscience.

Major funding sources included DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund at Vanderbilt.

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Brian Sullivan is a reporter for Out & About Nashville. He has served nearly 2 decades in the television industry, with over 20 years experience as a print and broadcast journalist. Sullivan is an Emmy Award Winning producer, writer, lobbyist, activist and marketing strategist. He is active in several campaigns raising awareness in addiction treatment, equality and mental healthcare. He received recognition as a Nashville Emerging Leader of the Year at the NELA Awards. He is an Executive Board Member of the Prevention Alliance of Tennessee, a member of DrugFree Wilco, the Williamson County Anti-Drug Coalition, the Memphis Area Prevention Alliance, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Facing Addiction, Fed Up!, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Center for Nonprofit Management, Music City Theatre Company, LGBTQI Nashvillians of Faith, Covenant of the Cross Ministries, Human Rights Campaign, HRC Nashville, Team Friendly Tennessee, Tennessee Equality Project, Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, Wilson County Anti-Drug Coalition, National Fraternal Order of Police, the Nashville Filmmakers Guild and is an ordained Minister. Sullivan is a proud donor of the Memphis Hope House, Nashville Cares, Covenant Cupboard Food Pantry, and Second Harvest Food Bank. He has worked extensively on projects with several major networks including Fox News Network, CNN, Time Magazine, Washington Post, New York Times, Inside Edition and Mic.