April 30, 2020

Antibody finding raises hopes for Marburg, COVID-19 treatments

Monoclonal antibodies against Marburg virus — a more lethal cousin of the RNA virus that causes COVID-19 — may aid in the development of antibody “cocktails” to counter viral infection.

by Bill Snyder

Marburg is a distant, more lethal cousin of the RNA virus that causes COVID-19. An outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in Angola in 2004-2005 killed 90% of the approximately 250 people it infected. 

Now researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Vanderbilt University Medical Center led by Alexander Bukreyev, PhD, and James CroweMD, have isolated non-neutralizing monoclonal antibodies from a Marburg survivor that protect animals from being killed by the virus. 

The antibodies bound to the outer envelope protein of the Marburg virus. And while they didn’t kill the virus directly, they recruited other immune cells and antibodies that rapidly cleared the infection. 

These findings, reported last week in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, suggest that the unique biological properties of these antibodies make them attractive candidates for therapeutic, monoclonal antibody “cocktails” against Marburg infection, the researchers concluded. 

Non-neutralizing antibodies also may aid development of countermeasures against other viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, Crowe added. 

The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants AI109711 and AI142785 and by a grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense.