Recently, a group of research scientists affiliated with Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons along with colleagues from Hong Kong delved deeply into the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 (B.1.1.528) just detected in early November in South Africa. Now spreading rapidly around the world, this highly contagious mutant includes many spike mutations that potentially mitigate or disrupt the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies. This recent study confirms and even amplifies these concerns. Led by corresponding author David D. Ho, MD, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University, the study team shared that based on their study results, Omicron is noticeably resistant to convalescent plasma as well as four prominent COVID-19 vaccines. They conclude that this mutant poses a real problem for public health authorities in the war against COVID-19. The implications of these findings cannot be discounted if they hold up. Mass breakthrough infections could ensue.

Already peer reviewed, these findings are published in an advanced review format. This means that the study findings are already accepted for publication in the prestigious Nature journal, yet are “provided in this format here as a response to the exceptional public-health crisis.” However, this indicates the manuscript could undergo further copy editing and formatting.  

The study’s corresponding author has been investigating infectious diseases for over 25 years centering on HIV investigation. Dr. Ho is joined by other colleagues from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, as well as investigators from the University of Hong Kong, Center for Virology, Vaccinology, and Therapeutics.

The Vaccines under a Microscope

The team tested the neutralizing activity of sera from individuals who received one of four of the most popular vaccines in the West including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and AstraZeneca.Subscribe to the Trialsitenews “COVID-19” ChannelNo spam – we promise

What about MaBs?

The study team included 19 well-characterized monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in the testing of their neutralization profile to the spike protein including 17 directed to the RBD and two directed to the N-terminal domain (NTD).

Monoclonal antibodies tested included those from Regeneron and Brii Biosciences and others, including specialized developments provided by NIH and MIT.

Findings

The study team reported a comprehensive analysis across a panel of monoclonal antibodies associated with all known epitope clusters on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. They found that Omicron mutations adversely impacted 17 of 19 tested antibodies—meaning they were “abolished or impaired” including those authorized for use in patients.

Also, four (4) mutations in the spike of SARS-CoV-2 (S371L, N440K, G446S, and Q493R) suggest far greater antibody resistance to Omicron. Thus, this mutant poses real problems associated with existing COVID-19 vaccines and antibodies. 

It is troubling that even individuals boosted with mRNA-based vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) show diminished neutralizing power against Omicron.

Funding

Conflicts?

In the conflict section of this study, a handful of the research team filed a patent and provisional patent on behalf of Columbia University for several SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies discussed in the research manuscript.

The lead study author, Dr. David Ho, is the founder of the monoclonal antibody biotech venture TaiMed Biologics.

Columbia University & TaiMed Biologics Deal

Back in August of last year, Columbia University licensed some of the neutralizing antibodies discussed in this study.  For example in this exclusive contract Columbia licensed specific SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to the venture for the development, manufacture, and commercialization of the Columbia University intellectual property (IP) developed by Ho and his colleagues.

Lead Research/Investigator

David D. Ho, MD, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University

Link to Article

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