Alongside developing vaccines, scientists at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) are working at high speed to develop new drugs to improve the treatment of COVID-19 patients. A DZIF research group led by Prof. Florian Klein at the Institute of Virology of Cologne University Hospital is working on identifying and using antibodies to prevent and treat SARS-CoV-2 infections. The project is now obtaining special funding from the DZIF.
“Our aim is to find neutralising antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in blood samples obtained from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, and subsequently use these antibodies to develop a clinically effective drug,” explains Prof. Florian Klein. The DZIF team from Cologne has already been highly successful in using this method for other viruses such as Ebola and HIV-1. It is now applying its longstanding expertise to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
In order to find neutralising antibodies, the scientists investigate B cells obtained from blood samples of patients who have recovered from COVID-19. B cells, also called B lymphocytes, are responsible for developing and producing antibodies in the human body and therefore constitute an essential part of the human immune system.
From millions of different B cells in a blood sample, Florian Klein’s research team identifies individual B cells that are able to detect SARS-CoV-2. The research team subsequently decodes the genetic information of the antibodies and can use the information to produce those antibodies under laboratory conditions. All SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies are further investigated for their specific properties. The researchers aim to find antibodies that effectively target SARS-CoV-2 and are able to neutralise the virus.
“With this method, we are able to directly identify and investigate fully human SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies,” explains Florian Klein. “In addition, we gain information to more effectively develop active vaccines”. Following this DZIF-funded research, the scientists plan to evaluate a potent antibody candidate in the setting of a clinical trial.