The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in a devastating global health crisis. Though vaccines are the centerpiece for controlling the pandemic, the benefits of vaccines depend upon complex population vaccination strategies that remain vulnerable to manufacturing or deployment delays.
The rapid evolution of the virus into highly infectious variants has the potential to impact vaccine efficacy.
New Study Results
A new study published in the journal Nature has found small, unique antibody-like proteins known as VNARs, derived from the immune systems of sharks, can prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting human cells.
The study researchers found that the VNARs (Variable New Antigen Receptors) can help prepare for future coronavirus outbreaks because they were able to neutralize WIV1-CoV, a coronavirus that is capable of infecting human cells but currently circulates only in bats, where the virus that causes COVID-19, likely originated.
VNARs are part of the adaptive immune system of sharks and are evolutionarily distinct from immunoglobulins despite sharing some structural similarities with them.
The anti-SARS-CoV-2 VNARs were isolated from Elasmogen’s large synthetic VNAR libraries. One-tenth the size of human antibodies, the shark VNARs can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection.
According to the researchers, these new potential drug molecules against SARS-CoV-2 differ in their mechanism of action compared to other biologics and antibodies targeting the virus. Future therapies would likely include a cocktail of multiple shark VNARs to maximize their effectiveness against diverse and mutating viruses, with the added benefit of being cheaper and easier to manufacture than human antibodies.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Shark antibody-like proteins neutralize COVID-19 virus, help prepare for future coronaviruses.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 December 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/12/211217102915.htm>.
Obinna C. Ubah, et al. Mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 neutralization by shark variable new antigen receptors elucidated through X-ray crystallography. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27611-y