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07 Sep 2021

New technique accelerates process of determining vaccine efficacy against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants

Funding: Victorian Government and Medical Research Future Fund, emergent Ventures Fast Grant, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Jack Ma Foundation, A2 Milk Company, National Health and Medical Research Council, Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Wellcome Trust
DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.150012

Researchers have developed a way to more efficiently determine the effectiveness of vaccine induced antibodies against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.

With COVID-19 continuing to infect people globally and multiple variants of the virus rapidly emerging, there is an increasing focus on understanding how mutations affect the antibody response induced by COVID-19 vaccines.

Using a new multiplex assay, a type of analytical technique, researchers can now measure the effectiveness of neutralising antibodies to 24 different SARS-CoV-2 variants with a single test.

Lead author University of Melbourne Dr Amy Chung, a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute explained that of particular interest is a region of the virus known as the Receptor Binding Domain, which enables the virus to bind to and infect host cells.

“Mutations within this region can not only make it easier to bind to cells, but can change the structure of the virus itself,” Dr Chung said.

“When the structure of the virus is changed, the neutralising antibodies our immune systems have developed from the vaccines no longer recognise it, so vaccine efficacy is reduced.”

First author, University of Melbourne's Ester Lopez, a Senior Research Assistant at the Doherty Institute highlighted that a major benefit of this assay is that it very rapidly test hundreds of samples simultaneously against dozens of emerging SARS-CoV2 variants.

“Whilst traditional methods can take up to a week, this new assay sees results generated within a day.

“In addition, it does not require advanced biohazard facilities normally used for live virus antibody neutralisation tests, so it can potentially be adapted and used by most laboratories.”

The application of this assay will assist in monitoring and anticipating patterns of antibody resistance to emerging SARS-CoV2 variants, in order to guide the development of improved vaccines and therapeutic agents.

This was a large collaborative study involving multiple groups at the Doherty Institute including members from the Professor Stephen Kent, Professor Dale Godfrey, Professor Damian Purcell and Professor Kanta Subbarao laboratories, along with Professor Wai-Hong Tham’s Laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.