Key vulnerability discovered across all major SARS-CoV-2 variants

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

August 18, 2022 -- Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered a “weak spot” across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the recently emerged BA.1 and BA.2 omicron subvariants, using cryo-electron microscopy to reveal the atomic-level structure of the vulnerability on the spike protein.

Their findings, published August 18 in the journal Nature Communications, describe an antibody fragment called VH Ab6 that attaches to the vulnerable site on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, blocking the virus from binding with the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) cell receptor.

The antibody fragment VH Ab6 was shown to be effective against the alpha, beta, gamma, delta, kappa, epsilon, and omicron variants, neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 by attaching to the epitope on the spike protein and blocking the virus from entering human cells.

"This study reveals a weak spot that is largely unchanged across variants and can be neutralized by an antibody fragment. It sets the stage for the design of pan-variant treatments that could potentially help a lot of vulnerable people," senior author Sriram Subramaniam, a professor at UBC's faculty of medicine, said in a statement.

According to Subramaniam, the identified vulnerability can now be exploited by pharmaceutical companies and -- given that the site is relatively mutation free -- their potential treatments could be effective against existing and even future variants.

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