SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 Delta variant replication and immune evasion

Nature. 2021 Sep 6. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03944-y. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant was first identified in the state of Maharashtra in late 2020 and spread throughout India, outcompeting pre-existing lineages including B.1.617.1 (Kappa) and B.1.1.7 (Alpha)1. In vitro, B.1.617.2 is 6-fold less sensitive to serum neutralising antibodies from recovered individuals, and 8-fold less sensitive to vaccine-elicited antibodies as compared to wild type (WT) Wuhan-1 bearing D614G. Serum neutralising titres against B.1.617.2 were lower in ChAdOx-1 versus BNT162b2 vaccinees. B.1.617.2 spike pseudotyped viruses exhibited compromised sensitivity to monoclonal antibodies against the receptor binding domain (RBD) and N- terminal domain (NTD). B.1.617.2 demonstrated higher replication efficiency in both airway organoid and human airway epithelial systems compared to B.1.1.7, associated with B.1.617.2 spike in a predominantly cleaved state compared to B.1.1.7. The B.1.617.2 spike protein was able to mediate highly efficient syncytium formation that was less sensitive to inhibition by neutralising antibody as compared to WT spike. Additionally we observed that B.1.617.2 had higher replication and spike mediated entry as compared to B.1.617.1, potentially explaining B.1.617.2 dominance. In an analysis of over 130 SARS-CoV-2 infected healthcare workers across three centres in India during a period of mixed lineage circulation, we observed reduced ChAdOx-1 vaccine effectiveness against B.1.617.2 relative to non- B.1.617.2, with the caveat of possible residual confounding. Compromised vaccine efficacy against the highly fit and immune evasive B.1.617.2 Delta variant warrants continued infection control measures in the post-vaccination era.