GenScript, a leading life sciences company, has a new antibody test that could raise the standard for testing and give us clearer insights on how to fight the coronavirus. Today, in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, GenScript describes early results from the test, which targets specialized virus-thwarting antibodies known as neutralizing antibodies. The results suggest we can rethink our understanding of long term immunity to Covid, and offers hope for the effectiveness of a future vaccine.
When a virus infects our body, our immune system kicks into action to combat it in a number of ways. One part of that immune response involves antibodies, the tiny proteins which recognize a virus and stick to it. But not all antibodies are made equal.
“When you have a virus, you generate all these antibodies, but only a small fraction bind to the virus in a way that prevents it from infecting a cell,” GenScript’s Eric Wang explains. “Those are the neutralizing antibodies.”
Neutralizing antibodies make up less than 1% of the total antibodies measured by current commercial tests, and Wang says they’re being missed. That means we could be underestimating just how many people are already protected against reinfection with the virus.
Neutralizing antibodies are not sufficient in all cases. But based on the body’s response to other viruses, neutralizing antibodies are a good indicator of protective immunity in most patients who have recovered from a disease.
“All the antibody tests at the moment look at total antibodies, and these can reduce significantly just a few months after a patient recovers from Covid,” says Wang. “But as long as you have a small amount of neutralizing antibody, the patient may still be immune to the virus.”
Recent studies have indicated that total antibodies, including neutralizing antibodies, do indeed reduce in both asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid survivors. A UK team suggested last week that this seemingly transient immune response, which included a reduction in neutralizing antibodies, might well be linked to the severity of the initial illness.
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