COVID-19: Singapore publishes new research findings that could help with development of vaccines, more accurate testing

COVID-19: Singapore publishes new research findings that could help with development of vaccines, more accurate testing

An illustration of a coronavirus provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows
An illustration of a coronavirus provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows its protruding spike-like structures AFP/Lizabeth MENZIES

SINGAPORE: Researchers in Singapore have discovered the specific sites on the novel coronavirus that trigger the body to produce antibodies that can prevent further COVID-19 infection.

The National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) and the A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), said in a statement on Friday (Jul 17) that antibodies produced during infection attach to many parts of the virus, but only some antibodies are capable of eliminating the virus or offering protection against infection.

READ: Singapore reports 248 new COVID-19 cases, including 11 in the community

Whether the antibodies produced are able to counteract the virus after attaching to its surface depends on where exactly they attach, the agencies said. The specific sites are called epitopes.

The findings come from two studies comprising tests on more than 100 convalescent COVID-19 patients, and could help in the development of treatments and vaccines as well as more accurate diagnostic testing, they said. 

IMPORTANCE OF THE IDENTIFICATION OF VIRUS SURFACE SITES

During a press briefing on the findings, Professor Leo Yee Sin, NCID’s executive director, said that the while patients’ bodies produce “all kinds of antibodies” to counter the infection, their bodies eventually refine the production of antibodies so that they are more specific to the target pathogens. 

In order to identify these antibodies, “our strategy is to only start to recruit patients four weeks after the recovery”, said Prof Leo.

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Professor Lisa Ng, senior principal investigator at A*STAR’s SIgN, said that the area the antibodies can attach to is relatively large, as the novel coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, is three times larger than the dengue virus and more than three times larger than the Zika virus.

“The identification of these specific targets on the virus is a crucial advance in the development of better diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. There is also potential to use these targets against similar coronaviruses to address other viral outbreaks,” said Prof Ng.

She also said it could help in the development of vaccines.

“(The epitopes) would actually (make the body) generate neutralising antibodies, so it means if we were to use them as potential vaccine candidates, these would be good.”

The findings can also be used to provide an estimate of the community’s immunity to COVID-19 infection by surveying the degree in which the population carries antibodies that can counteract these epitopes, the agencies said.

The two studies were published in international scientific journals Nature Communications and EBioMedicine by The Lancet. The findings will also be used by A*STAR in a multi-centre collaborative study for the development of the World Health Organisation International Standard for COVID-19 Antibody and Reference Panel.

Prof Leo said SARS-CoV-2 has “challenged the entire scientific world with numerous unresolved questions awaiting scientists to unravel”.

“We are pleased to share this internationally leading work by the local research team which focuses on a powerful aspect of finding out how humans can generate specific antibodies targeted against SARS-CoV-2,” she said.

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Source: CNA/ja(hs)

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