After 7 months of intense work, a research team from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology and Conicet obtained VHH nanoantibodies from flames and IgY antibodies, derived from the yolk of chicken eggs, with the ability to neutralize the COVID-19 infection.
These results position Argentina as the first country in South America with the potential to convert these molecules into therapeutic products. The neutralization tests carried out with both pseudovirus and wild virus confirmed that These molecules inhibit the viral infection caused by SARS-CoV-2, resulting in innovative treatments against the COVID-19 disease complementary to vaccines and other available methods.
The truth is the immunization of a llama in the INTA experimental unit and the subsequent construction of a library of llama nanoantibodies against COVID-19 was the gateway to obtain nanoantibodies with the ability to inhibit the viral infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
“Recombinant monoclonal HHV nanoantibodies and polyclonal IgY antibodies represent two strategies for the preventive and therapeutic treatment of patients affected by COVID-19. Both the vaccine and these immunity therapies are like getting the antibody ready to use, they are all complementary tools. It would be wonderful to be able to go out knowing that there is the possibility of avoiding contagion, ″ he explained to Infobae Viviana Parreño, CONICET researcher in the INCUINTA group linked to the Institute of Virology and Technological Innovations and responsible for the project together with Itatí Ibañez, CONICET researcher at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of Materials, Environment and Energy (INQUIMAE).
“This was a work of more than 30 people composed of researchers and also an anti-covid consortium, the truth it was an enormous effort of many that fills us with pride“, He commented to Infobae Itatí Ibañez CONICET researcher at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of Materials, Environment and Energy (INQUIMAE).
In this journey of producing the nanoantibodies, the researchers immunized Spike – the name of the flame – with the protein that forms the crown of SARS-CoV-2. They then took a blood sample and, from there, the circulating lymphocytes. Messenger RNA –ribonucleic acid– was purified from these cells, which contains information on the antibodies made by camelids.
With the information encoded in the VHH genes, monoclonal antibodies were obtained that demonstrated their ability to inhibit a viral infection using three different neutralization assays.
The trials that demonstrated the neutralizing activity of the molecules They were initially carried out in the laboratory by Itatí Ibañez with pseudo viral particles and, in parallel, confirmed with the wild virus in the Respiratory Virosis Service of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INEI) of ANLIS-Malbrán, by researcher Elsa Baumeister, and , at the Polytechnic Institute of Virginia -United States-, by scientist Jonathan Auguste.
“We are currently producing large amounts of neutralizing antibodies in the laboratory, which luckily we obtained several. Then we will send them to the United States where they have a mouse virus and there we will demonstrate that the antibodies protect mice in lung infection. After that, it remains to talk with private sector companies that want to produce it at scale and carry out clinical trials in humans, as happened with equine serum or convalescent plasma that are currently being tested in humans, ”Parreño explained.
Flame molecules represent a technology that allows the administration of a pharmacologically defined product, a recombinant monoclonal antibody, It may be administered in the form of a nebulization to prevent or treat respiratory infection, while IgY antibodies represent a polyclonal therapy for topical or oral application.
The results obtained place Argentina “among the select group of countries that have developed nanoantibodies: United States, China, along with Sweden and Belgium, among other nations of the European Union. This scientific development positions the country as the first in the southern hemisphere to account for this achievement, ”said Parreño.
“We were able to detect these unique antibodies that can inhibit viral infection, bind to the virus and block infection. The moment we saw the inhibition of the virus through the microscope was very beautiful and exciting because we managed to neutralize it. The joy is even greater because there are several antibodies that we were able to identify and, therefore, it allows us to select the best ”, Ibañez emphasized.
This project, chosen from more than 900 proposals in the call of the R + D + i Agency within the framework of the actions of the “Coronavirus Unit” that it integrates together with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and CONICET, “demonstrated to be able to meet the goals that he set for himself in record time ”, acknowledged Itatí Ibañez, molecular virologist, who together with Marina Bok and Florencia Pavan built the VHH gene library in just 10 days.
Once the preclinical and safety tests in animals have been completed, the scaling and production phase can begin under good manufacturing practices, for later testing in clinical trials with the approval of the regulatory authority. In this way, The two strategies can be added to the human plasma and Ig and equine polyclonal antibody therapies that are already in the clinical phase.
“This shows that the technical capacity of Argentine scientists is equivalent to scientists from anywhere in the world and that fills us with pride,” he concluded Ibañez.
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