Emory University Teams Rapidly Producing Compelling COVID-19 Antibody Research with Promising Impact

Emory University Teams Rapidly Producing Compelling COVID-19 Antibody Research with Promising Impact

The good news keeps coming when it comes to COVID-19 antibody research. Promising research from Emory University reveals that just about all people hospitalized with COVID-19 develop virus-neutralizing antibodies within six days of testing positive for the virus. Important findings from the elite academic medical center from Atlanta, Georgia, they will aid researchers to better understand protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 as well as inform vaccine development.  Moreover, the findings may help investigators determine whether convalescent plasma from COVID-19 survivors can offer immunity to others and which donors’ plasma should be used.

Background

The antibody test was developed by Emory and validated with samples from diagnosed patients has evidenced that not all antibody tests are the same and that neutralizing antibodies, which provide immunity, have specific characteristics. The specific Emory study centered on neutralizing antibodies which can be used to block the virus from infecting other cells. Now available on the preprint server MedRxiv, the study has yet to be peer reviewed.

The Focus: Receptor-Binding Domain

The research team studied antibodies against the receptor-binding domain (RBD), part of the spike protein on the outside of the virus. The RBD is what grips on to the human cells and allows the virus to enter them reported Emory University’s press release. The Atlanta-based team focused their efforts on antibodies against the RBD because the sequence of the RBD in SARS-CoV-2 distinguishes it from other coronaviruses that are behind the common cold for example.

The Study

The team looked at 44 initial blood samples that originated from patients under treatment for COVID-19 at Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown. The first step in a much larger serology effort, the initial findings offer “important implications for our understanding of protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the use of immune plasma as a therapy, and the development of much -needed vaccines,” reported Mehul S. Suthar, PhD, co-lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine and Emory Vaccine Center. Professor Suthar is a virologist and specializes in studying immunity to emerging viruses.

Real-Time Approach to Investigating SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies

According to Professor Suthar, the Emory team’s approach has been different in that not many have actually studied neutralizing antibody responses from patients in the hospital presently. Put another way, Professor Suthar commented, “This study provides a snapshot of the immune response as it is happening, not after the battle is over.”

Benefits of Emory Approach

Following up on Professor Suthar’s explanation, study co-lead author Jens Wrammert, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine declared that the RBD-specific approach produces information that helps researchers better understand vaccine development because investigators could delve into the blood of vaccine study participants for the RBD-specific antibodies, as essentially, a benchmark of predicted efficacy. This approach may also determine the best use of convalescent plasma from the blood of those patients ill from COVID-19. 

Professor Wrammert continued that researchers could utilize this data to determine how they correlate with plasma from COVID-19 patients. He commented, “The fact we are seeing good virus neutralization this early during infection means we can use binding to the RBD as a way to screen potential plasma donors.” This would make this approach far more precise and hence effective.

Clinical Testing: Unprecedented Speed

The Emory team was able to rapidly transfer the science uncovered to the clinical space for validation of the antibody test as well as high-throughput e with an additional 231 patient samples from two hospitals. In a process that ordinarily takes six to nine months, the multidisciplinary team effective developed a highly sensitive and accurate test within weeks. John Roback, MD, PhD, executive vice-chair for clinical operations in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and medical director of Emory Medical Laboratories led the charge.

Dr. Roback, frankly is in awe of the unprecedented velocity by which the team has gone from “laboratory to actual clinical care” commenting, “This is the best example of that taking place in my career.” The collaboration was made possible not only compelling focus, concentration and the looming health crisis cased by the pandemic, but also from powerful collaboration involving a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, scientists and researchers.

‘Game Changing’ Support from Marcus Foundation

Thanks to support from the Marcus Foundation, which Emory University emphasized in their press release was “game changing”, the team was able to execute on the development of the high-throughput test as well as accelerated execution of processed samples.

An Arsenal of Tests Ready for Laboratory

As Emory starts to yield results from a robust collaborative environment working around the clock, Dr. Roback commented that “Emory has put together a very good arsenal of tests that can be deployed in the clinical laboratory.”

Funding

Other funding originated from an Emory Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Synergy Fund Award as well as the National Institutes of Health NIAID Infectious Disease Clinical Research Consortium.

Lead Research/Investigators

Mehul S. Suthar, PhD, co-lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine and Emory Vaccine Center

John Roback, MD, PhD, executive vice-chair for clinical operations in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and medical director of Emory Medical Laboratories

Jens Wrammert, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine

A number of other authors we involved and can be viewed here

Call to Action: TrialSite News will continue to follow the early stage antibody research, given the unprecedented speed this group is working at they may have output in clinical trials before long.