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Researchers isolate Ebola antibodies in quest for vaccine, treatment

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

March 15, 2016

A team of researchers, including scientists from MassBiologics at UMass Medical School, the only non-profit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines in the United States, have identified 349 monoclonal antibodies of interest from a survivor of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak. A large percentage of these antibodies showed some evidence of neutralizing Ebola and several were quite potent. Analysis of these antibodies and the virus points to a potential vulnerability that may lead to the design of new therapies for treating people infected with the Ebola virus. The study was published in Science.

  Mark Klempner, MD

Mark Klempner, MD

“This study represents an excellent example of translating nature’s response to a deadly infection into guidance on how to develop a preventive vaccine or treatment,” said Mark Klempner, MD, executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics and professor of medicine. “By rapidly dissecting nature’s immune response to Ebola infection in an individual who recovered, we have been provided key insights into how to design a vaccine to prevent infection and information about the specific types of antibodies that could be used to treat patients with Ebola infection.”

The Ebola virus (EBOV) causes severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans and is found in several African countries. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea infected an estimated 28,639 people and caused 11,316 deaths to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are no FDA-approved vaccines or medicines (such as antiviral drugs) effective for treating Ebola.

Using a blood sample from a survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, scientists screened for antibodies from B cells that targeted the Ebola glycoprotein. The only virally expressed protein on the surface of the Ebola virion, this glycoprotein plays a critical role in the virus’ ability to attach to host cells and fuse with the cell membrane. Of the 349 glycoprotein-specific antibodies identified by researchers, 77 percent of them had a neutralizing effect on the Ebola virus. A few of the identified antibodies were especially effective, protecting 100 percent of mice exposed to a lethal amount of the Ebola virus.

Additionally, analysis of where the antibody fused to the Ebola glycoprotein revealed an area of vulnerability common to select antibodies. These areas of the glycoprotein may be a potential target for new therapies and provide the framework for designing vaccine candidates and immunotherapies for Ebola.