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Scripps researching new COVID weapon

LA JOLLA — A Scripps research team has hit on a new way to possibly combat COVID.

The COVID-causing virus SARS-CoV-2 harbors a vulnerable site at

the base of its spike protein that is found also on closely related coronaviruses,

according to a new study from Scripps Research. The discovery, published Feb. 8 in

“Science Translational Medicine,” could inform the design of broad-acting vaccines and

antibody therapies capable of stopping future coronavirus pandemics.

The scientists had previously isolated an antibody from a COVID-19 survivor that can

neutralize not only SARS-CoV-2 but also several other members of the family of

coronaviruses known as beta-coronaviruses. In the new work, they mapped at atomic

scale the site E or “epitope,” to which the antibody binds on the SARS-Cov-2 spike

protein. They showed that the same epitope exists on other beta coronaviruses, and

demonstrated with animal models that the antibody is protective against the effects of

SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“We’re hopeful that the identification of this epitope will help us develop vaccines and

antibody therapies that work against all beta-coronaviruses, including coronaviruses

that may jump from animals to humans in the future,” said study co-senior author

Raiees Andrabi, PhD, an institute investigator in the Department of Immunology and

Microbiology at Scripps Research.

Beta-coronaviruses have emerged recently as major, ongoing threats to public health.

These coronaviruses include SARS-CoV-1, which killed about 800 people, mostly in

Asia, in a series of outbreaks in 2002-04; MERS-CoV, which has killed about 900

people, mostly in the Middle East, since 2012; and, of course, SARS-CoV-2, which by

now has killed over 5 million people worldwide in the COVID-19 pandemic. Two other

beta coronaviruses, HCoV-HKU1 and HCoV-OC43, cause only common colds, but are

suspected of having caused deadly pandemics centuries ago, when they first jumped

from animals to humans. Researchers widely believe that future coronavirus pandemics

initiated by animal-to-human spread are inevitable.