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Discovery of ‘weak spot’ in COVID-19 variants to lead a better treatment

Discovery of ‘weak spot’ in COVID-19 variants to lead a better treatment

A discovery by a team of B.C. researchers may lead to improved COVID-19 treatment options that are effective against several variants of the disease.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve found a “weak spot” in COVID-19 variants, including in the latest Omicron subvariants. Their findings were published in Nature Communications on Thursday.

A study says the “key vulnerability” is found in all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Researchers say exploiting that weakness could pave the way for new treatments that would be effective against all strains of the illness that has killed almost 6.5-million people across the globe since it was identified more than two years ago.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, says the team studied the virus at an atomic level, found the weak spot and identified an antibody fragment that can attach to it and all other variants, including the surging Omicron subvariants.

Antibodies counteract viruses by attaching like a key in a lock and are no longer effective when the virus mutates quickly, but Subramaniam says the weak spot is constant in all seven major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing one antibody to act as a “master key” capable of overcoming extensive mutations.

Subramaniam says the weak spot and master key identified in the study “unlock a whole new realm of treatment possibilities” that have the potential to be effective against current or future variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

By identifying a weak spot, researchers say drug makers can use the information to create new treatments that could even be effective against future variants.

“We now have a very clear picture of this vulnerable spot on the virus. We know every interaction the spike protein makes with the antibody at this site. We can work backwards from this, using intelligent design, to develop a slew of antibody treatments,” Subramaniam said.

“Having broadly effective, variant-resistant treatments would be a game changer in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.”

This article was reported by The Canadian Press on Aug. 18, 2022.