April 3, 2020
Dr. Shelly Krebs had previously focused her research on learning how HIV-positive individuals naturally develop potent antibody responses to the virus. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, however, Dr. Krebs and her lab, which is part of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program but is collaborating with the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, shifted their scientific work to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Dr. Krebs and her team have attempted to identify, characterize and develop monoclonal antibodies, which have a long history in the treatment of chronic diseases and are rapidly becoming an important countermeasure for the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to develop antibody products to help detect, prevent and treat the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
From what scientists have learned since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that individuals who overcome the infection likely mounted an immune response that helped them recover. By isolating monoclonal antibodies from these individuals, Dr. Krebs and her lab are trying to identify key components of their immune response that can be used to help others who don’t mount a protective response to defeat the virus. Early steps in the development of monoclonal antibody products to treat COVID-19 patients include purifying antibodies from previously infected donors and screening them for potency.
Monoclonal antibodies are perhaps most commonly thought of as an immunotherapy treatment option capable of blunting the severity of COVID-19, but monoclonal antibody products could potentially be used to counter the pandemic at multiple points. In the absence of a vaccine, infusions of antibodies could prevent an individual from contracting the disease. Dr. Krebs and her team are also researching how to use monoclonal antibodies to help diagnose the disease as part of immunoassay development.
In related work, Dr. Gordon Joyce, who is head of the Structural Biology Lab at the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch, is collaborating with the University of Maryland on research to discover whether shark antibodies could help humans fight off the novel coronavirus. This research collaboration will investigate the specificity and potency of nano-bodies generated by sharks after vaccination. Shark antibodies are smaller, flexible and may bind and block parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus more easily than human antibodies. Scientists continue to explore these antibodies and their potential to neutralize the virus.