Rapid exploration of the epitope coverage produced by an Ebola survivor to guide the discovery of therapeutic antibody cocktails

Antib Ther. 2020 Aug 1;3(3):167-178. doi: 10.1093/abt/tbaa016. eCollection 2020 Jul.


Background: Development of successful neutralizing antibodies is dependent upon broad epitope coverage to increase the likelihood of achieving therapeutic function. Recent advances in synthetic biology have allowed us to conduct an epitope binning study on a large panel of antibodies identified to bind to Ebola virus glycoprotein with only published sequences.

Methods and results: A rapid, first-pass epitope binning experiment revealed seven distinct epitope families that overlapped with known structural epitopes from the literature. A focused set of antibodies was selected from representative clones per bin to guide a second-pass binning that revealed previously unassigned epitopes, confirmed epitopes known to be associated with neutralizing antibodies, and demonstrated asymmetric blocking of EBOV GP from allosteric effectors reported from literature.

Conclusions: Critically, this workflow allows us to probe the epitope landscape of EBOV GP without any prior structural knowledge of the antigen or structural benchmark clones. Incorporating epitope binning on hundreds of antibodies during early stage antibody characterization ensures access to a library's full epitope coverage, aids in the identification of high quality reagents within the library that recapitulate this diversity for use in other studies, and ultimately enables the rational development of therapeutic cocktails that take advantage of multiple mechanisms of action such as cooperative synergistic effects to enhance neutralization function and minimize the risk of mutagenic escape. The use of high-throughput epitope binning during new outbreaks such as the current COVID-19 pandemic is particularly useful in accelerating timelines due to the large amount of information gained in a single experiment.

Keywords: Ebola virus; antibody therapeutics; epitope binning; infectious disease; neutralizing antibodies; surface plasmon resonance; synthetic biology.