Ultrapotent bispecific antibodies neutralize emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants

bioRxiv. 2021 Apr 1;2021.04.01.437942. doi: 10.1101/2021.04.01.437942. Preprint


The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants that threaten the efficacy of existing vaccines and therapeutic antibodies underscores the urgent need for new antibody-based tools that potently neutralize variants by targeting multiple sites of the spike protein. We isolated 216 monoclonal antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 from plasmablasts and memory B cells of COVID-19 patients. The three most potent antibodies targeted distinct regions of the RBD, and all three neutralized the SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351. The crystal structure of the most potent antibody, CV503, revealed that it binds to the ridge region of SARS-CoV-2 RBD, competes with the ACE2 receptor, and has limited contact with key variant residues K417, E484 and N501. We designed bispecific antibodies by combining non-overlapping specificities and identified five ultrapotent bispecific antibodies that inhibit authentic SARS-CoV-2 infection at concentrations of <1 ng/mL. Through a novel mode of action three bispecific antibodies cross-linked adjacent spike proteins using dual NTD/RBD specificities. One bispecific antibody was >100-fold more potent than a cocktail of its parent monoclonals in vitro and prevented clinical disease in a hamster model at a 2.5 mg/kg dose. Notably, six of nine bispecific antibodies neutralized B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and the wild-type virus with comparable potency, despite partial or complete loss of activity of at least one parent monoclonal antibody against B.1.351. Furthermore, a bispecific antibody that neutralized B.1.351 protected against SARS-CoV-2 expressing the crucial E484K mutation in the hamster model. Thus, bispecific antibodies represent a promising next-generation countermeasure against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

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