New antibodies against coronaviruses

The aim of our research project is to generate "new-generation" antibodies composed of multiple anchoring points in order to effectively block the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the cells. The small size of these antibodies may result in better penetration into the tissues, better management of the viral resistance mechanisms and the production of new drugs.

  • Background

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has produced an unprecedented global health and economic crisis. Since no vaccine or therapy was available at the start of the project, developing new treatments was a matter of urgency.

    The entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the cell is controlled by the spike protein (S) anchored in the viral envelope. The S protein binds to a receptor located on the target cell, ultimately resulting in the injection of genetic material from the virus into the cell. This S protein is a major target for the production of antibodies by the immune system in response to the infection.

  • Research aims

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    Our project focuses on the development of "new-generation" neutralising antibodies that block the entry of the virus into the cell. The antibodies generated in this project are designed to contain several mini-domains derived from antibodies produced by llamas. These antibodies are fused together and simultaneously target several functional regions of the S protein.

  • Expected results and envisaged products

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    In collaboration with the universities of Bern and Zurich, a panel of "mini-domains" will first be identified using an innovative synthetic platform and then characterised in respect of its biochemistry (affinity studies), structure (molecular localisation of the mini-domains on the S protein by cryo-electron microscopy) and function (viral neutralisation tests). This in-depth characterisation will enable various excellent mini-domains to be selected and then fused, potentially resulting in the production of biomolecules with unprecedented neutralisation efficacy.

  • Specific contribution to tackle the current pandemic

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    Such multi-domain antibodies may show unparalleled therapeutic efficacy due to several factors: (i) a neutralising activity superior to conventional antibodies as a result of their multiple anchoring points on the S protein, (ii) a reduction in the risk of developing resistant viruses thanks to the multi-directional attack, (iii) the promising possibility of developing a drug that could be directly inhaled, and (iv) a technological approach for producing neutralising antibodies not just against SARS-CoV-2, but potentially also against other coronaviruses that might emerge in future epidemics or pandemics.

  • Original title

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    Neutralizing multivalent antibodies against coronaviruses