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Complete development of COVID-19 antibody at VIB (Flanders)

In the fight against the coronavirus, antibody therapeutics will be vital to treating non-vaccinated and immunocompromised people. In this respect, the COVID-19 antibody developed by the VIB-UGent labs of Xavier Saelens and Nico Callewaert has completed the drug development trajectory. Part of VIB, Flanders’ strategic research center for life sciences, the scientists’ teams have published new findings in a preprint publication that show how the antibody neutralizes new virus variants. This makes VIB’s antibody “one of the most futureproof antibody COVID-19 therapies in development”, as stated by VIB in a press release.

Safe and effective protection

Previously, the labs of Xavier Saelens and Nico Callewaert successfully isolated and developed llama-derived antibodies capable of neutralizing the SARS-COV-2 virus. These antibodies have now been adapted for use in humans and improved to safely and effectively protect against infection by blocking the entry of viruses into cells.

“While vaccines are key in controlling the coronavirus pandemic, virus-neutralizing antibody-based drugs play an important role in the treatment of people who still fall ill from COVID-19, enabling them to avoid more severe illness,” explains Xavier Saelens, group leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology. “The therapeutic antibodies can supplement these patients’ immune systems, which often fail to mount a sufficiently strong immune response in the first weeks of disease.”

Antibody-based medicines are especially useful for people with compromised immune systems, for whom vaccines may not be as effective. What’s more, these types of medicines can be seen as a medical insurance policy in case new variants of the coronavirus increasingly elude vaccine-induced immunity.

Xavier Saelens
group leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology

The result of an intense, collaborative process

The antibodies were tested together with the team of prof. Johan Neyts from KU Leuven’s Rega Institute, as well as with various labs abroad. The VIB teams recently presented their new developments in a bioRxiv preprint publication, which is currently awaiting peer review and formal publication. “We could rapidly continue to improve the therapy’s neutralizing activity by enhancing its ability to bind to viral proteins through protein engineering,” comments Nico Callewaert, director of the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology.

The drug candidate entered preclinical development and production in spring 2020, a time-consuming process that is now completed. This yielded XVR011, a highly stable anti-COVID-19 biologic with excellent manufacturability features that will be tested in patients in the coming months.

Nico Callewaert
director of the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology

Meet XVR011

VIB’s research using animal models shows that the newly developed antibody – called XVR011 – is unaffected by the changes in new coronavirus variants. The llama antibody that VIB uses is smaller than human antibodies, allowing it to effectively target a unique, highly conserved and difficult-to-reach region in the virus’s spike protein.

What’s more, the antibody also holds extensive potential in offering protection against other members of the SARS-CoV-2-like virus family. This can make the antibody essential in preparing for possible future pandemics as well. 

Phase I and II clinical trials

The new antibody treatment is now ready for Phase I and II clinical trials, which seek to test its safety and efficiency in human COVID-19 patients. These tests will be carried out by spin-off company ExeVir Bio, which will continue to work with top academic research groups to further optimize XVR011.

It’s incredible how much progress these VIB teams made in just 12 months. Their accelerated work toward a COVID-19 drug offers a blueprint for antibody development in case of future pandemics.

Jérôme Van Biervliet
managing director at VIB

More info

VIB
Reported by
VIB website
11 March 2021

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