Development of Plant-Made Monoclonal Antibodies to Address the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that emerged from a zoonotic host at the end of 2019 and caused a public health crisis. In this collection of studies, Nicotiana benthamiana

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that emerged from a zoonotic host at the end of 2019 and caused a public health crisis. In this collection of studies, Nicotiana benthamiana plants are used to set the foundation for producing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) with homogeneous glycosylation to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 and potentially address the immunopathology often observed with severe COVID-19. Specifically, a mAb against the human interleukin (IL)-6 receptor (sarilumab) was generated and evaluated in vitro for its potential to reduce IL-6 signaling that has been shown to be associated with more severe cases of COVID-19. Furthermore, multiple mAbs that bind to the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 and efficiently neutralize the virus were developed using plant-based expression. Several of these mAbs are from different classes of RBD-binding mAbs that have distinct binding sites from one another. Several mAbs from different classes showed synergy in neutralizing the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2 and a smaller subset showed synergy when tested against the highly mutated Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant. Of interest, a novel RBD-binding mAb, termed 11D7, that was raised against the ancestral strain and derived from a hybridoma, appears to have an epitope on the RBD that contributes more synergy to a mAb combination that efficiently neutralizes the B.1.1.529 variant of SARS-CoV-2. This epitope was partially mapped by competitive binding and shows that it overlaps with another known antibody that binds a cryptic, distal epitope, away from the receptor binding site, giving insight into the potential mechanism by which 11D7 neutralizes SARS-CoV-2, as well as potentially allowing it to resist SARS-CoV-2 immune evasion more efficiently. Furthermore, this mAb carries a highly homogeneous glycan pattern when expressed in N. benthamiana, that may contribute to enhanced effector function and provides a tool to elucidate the precise role of crystallizable fragment (Fc)-mediated protection in SARS-CoV-2 infection. Ultimately, these studies provide evidence of the utility of plant-made mAbs to be used as cocktail members, giving clarity to the use of less potent mAbs as valuable cocktail components which will spur further investigations into how mAbs with unique epitopes work together to efficiently neutralize SARS-CoV-2.