Two antibodies identified in Israel can fight all known COVID strains, study finds
Infusible to patients, antibodies are so powerful neutralizing the coronavirus they could eliminate the need for more vaccine boosters, peer-reviewed research says
Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent
Israeli scientists say they have identified antibodies that are so powerful in neutralizing the coronavirus that they could eliminate the need for more vaccine boosters.
A research team at Tel Aviv University experimented with numerous antibodies and found that two in particular neutralize all known strains of the coronavirus, including Delta and Omicron, in a lab setting.
Antibody infusions are already used to treat some coronavirus patients, and microbiologist Dr. Natalia Freund, who directed the new study, said the antibodies she identified could be used to concoct a particularly potent infusion.
Based on their performance in lab conditions, the antibodies could provide the extra protection that today comes from booster shots, she said, adding that this could potentially make extra shots unnecessary among vaccinated people.
“COVID-19 infection can cause serious illness, and we know that providing antibodies in the first days following infection can stop the spread of the virus,” Freund said.
“It is therefore possible that by using effective antibody treatment, we will not have to provide booster doses to the entire population every time there is a new variant,” she added.
According to Freund, on a technical level, the reason for the success of the two antibodies seems to be that they bind to a different part of the coronavirus spike protein than most others.
Freund’s latest research, newly peer-reviewed and published in Communications Biology, comes from investigations that began in her lab in October 2020.
Working with doctoral students Michael Mor and Ruofan Lee, she sequenced all the B immune system cells from the blood of people who had recovered from the original COVID strain in Israel, and isolated nine antibodies that the patients produced.
Now, the top two antibodies have been tested against a range of variants, and performed well against all of them.
“According to our findings, the effectiveness of the first antibody, TAU-1109, in neutralizing the Omicron strain is 92 percent, and in neutralizing the Delta strain, 90%,” Freund said.
“The second antibody, TAU-2310, neutralizes the Omicron variant with an efficacy of 84%, and the Delta variant with an efficacy of 97%,” she added.
The antibodies are named TAU because they were identified at Tel Aviv University.
To ensure that her lab work was done correctly, Freund sent the antibodies to have their effectiveness against live viruses checked in laboratory cultures at the University of California San Diego, and for further testing at Bar-Ilan University’s medicine faculty in the Galilee. These studies corroborated her findings.
Freund said that antibodies clearly give strong protection, as they prevent infection straight after recovery — but then they wane, and immunity reduces. In her view, this makes it logical to invest in artificially boosting antibodies, and she hopes to do exactly this with the antibodies she identified.
“For reasons we still don’t yet fully understand, the level of antibodies against COVID-19 declines significantly after three months,” she explained. “This is why we see people getting infected again and again, even after being vaccinated three times.
“COVID-19 infection can cause serious illness, and we know that providing antibodies in the first days following infection can stop the spread of the virus. It is therefore possible that by using effective antibody treatment, we will not have to provide booster doses to the entire population every time there is a new variant.”