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Highly effective coronavirus antibodies identified, may lead to passive COVID-19 vaccine

Scientists have identified highly effective antibodies against the novel coronavirus, which they say can lead to the development of a passive vaccination for COVID-19.

Unlike inactive vaccination, passive vaccination involves the administration of ready-made antibodies, which are degraded after some time.

However, the effect of a passive vaccination is almost immediate, whereas with an active vaccination it has to build up first, the researchers said.

The research, published in the journal Cell, also shows that some SARS-CoV-2 antibodies bind to tissue samples from various organs, which could potentially trigger undesired side effects.

The scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin isolated almost 600 different antibodies from the blood of individuals who had overcome COVID-19, the disease triggered by SARS-CoV-2.

By means of laboratory tests, they were able to narrow this number down to a few antibodies that were particularly effective at binding to the virus.

The researchers then produced these antibodies artificially using cell cultures.

The so-called neutralising antibodies bind to the virus, as crystallographic analysis reveals, and thus prevent the pathogen from entering cells and reproducing, they said.

In addition, virus recognition by antibodies helps immune cells to eliminate the pathogen. Studies in hamsters—which, like humans, are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2—confirmed the high efficacy of the selected antibodies.

“If the antibodies were given after an infection, the hamsters developed mild disease symptoms at most. If the antibodies were applied preventively—before infection—the animals did not get sick,” said Jakob Kreye, coordinator of the research project.

The researchers noted that treating infectious diseases with antibodies has a long history.