A new coronavirus antibody test soon to be on the market

20. 09. 2021

Not all coronavirus antibodies really protect you. Tests carried out so far usually provide information regarding the level of total binding antibodies but do not say whether these work against covid-19. Now, a new type of test emerged that can quickly determine levels of the protective antibodies, and it should soon appear on the international market.

Antibodies. One of the most discussed topics nowadays. Do they represent a solid alternative to vaccination against the virus SARS-CoV-2? How many antibodies are enough for a person to be considered as non-infectious? How long will they protect us - and will they at all?

At least one of these questions is now answered. Scientists from the Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB Prague), both being part of the Czech Academy of Sciences, have developed a new diagnostic test which shows the level of antibodies with proven protective properties. Both institutes have already signed a licensing agreement with the company Immunotech for the manufacture and distribution of the newly developed coronavirus antibody test.

The problem with non-protective antibodies

Researchers studied antibodies binding to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which is what the current vaccines also target.

“Not all the antibodies in the patient’s blood occurring after contact with the coronavirus or its spike protein are capable of directly neutralizing the virus, and thus, stopping infection of cells in the body,” Cyril Bařinka, the head of the Laboratory of Structural Biology at IBT, explains. “Existing tests can only measure the overall signal of all antibodies recognizing the spike protein, including those that can’t neutralize the virus,” the scientist adds.

They also conducted a virus neutralization tests to verify the ability of these antibodies to neutralize the viral particles.

“We discovered that only one of the antibodies had any real protective effect, and it successfully neutralized not only the original SARS-CoV-2, but also other known coronavirus variants such as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta,” Jan Weber, the head of the virology group at IOCB Prague, explains.

Big saving of time and money

The researchers then succeeded in preparing a diagnostic test that can measure levels of virus-neutralizing antibodies while ignoring others. This means big savings of time and money.  

“The developed test is capable of determining the level of antibodies with proven protective properties, and thus, it provides an estimate of the degree of protection against the coronavirus within a few short hours,” Pavel Šácha from IOCB Prague says.

Until now, if anybody wanted to measure antibodies in blood and their effectiveness and protectiveness, they had to measure the total amount of antibodies for each individual patient and verify their effectiveness against contagious viruses. That type of testing typically takes several days, is costly, and requires a biosafety level 3 laboratory, which makes it unsuitable for a mass use.

Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory at IOCB Prague (stock photo).

“Compared with a virus neutralization assay, the procedure is very easy and safe, and can be carried out by practically any laboratory,” Pavel Šácha says.

Soon to be on the international market

The company Immunotech, a Prague-based subsidiary of Beckman Coulter, which specializes in developing laboratory diagnostics, has signed a licensing agreement with IOCB Prague and IBT, based on which it can now commence industrial manufacturing of a test kit and, in the near future, market it.

Text: Eliška Zvolánková, Division of External Relations, CAS Centre of Administration and Operations
Photos: Shutterstock; Tomáš Belloň, IOCB Prague

The Czech Academy of Sciences (the CAS)

The mission of the CAS

The primary mission of the CAS is to conduct research in a broad spectrum of natural, technical and social sciences as well as humanities. This research aims to advance progress of scientific knowledge at the international level, considering, however, the specific needs of the Czech society and the national culture.

President of the CAS

Prof. Eva Zažímalová has started her second term of office in May 2021. She is a respected scientist, and a Professor of Plant Anatomy and Physiology.

She is also a part of GCSA of the EU.