Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in the US have identified neutralising antibodies, isolated from Covid-19 patients, against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

These antibodies are said to be among the most potent discovered to date and can be manufactured in vast quantities by pharmaceutical companies for the treatment of patients.

Researchers expect the antibodies to be particularly beneficial at early stages of the disease and to prevent infection, primarily in the elderly.

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons medicine professor David Ho said: “We now have a collection of antibodies that’s more potent and diverse compared to other antibodies that have been found so far, and they are ready to be developed into treatments.”

In hamsters, the purified, neutralising antibodies demonstrated significant protection from SARS-CoV-2. The team is planning additional studies in animals and humans to assess the antibodies.

The Nature journal published the findings.

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Drugs and vaccines currently being developed for Covid-19 may not be ready for several months. Meanwhile, neutralising antibodies generated by Covid-19 patients could help treat other patients or even prevent infection in exposed individuals.

The researchers noted that the development and approval of antibodies for treatment use take less time compared to standard drugs.

Though similar to the use of convalescent serum from recovered Covid-19 patients, this approach is considered potentially more effective.

To discover the new antibody candidates, the researchers analysed blood samples from moderate and severe Covid-19 patients treated at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

Patients with severe disease needing mechanical ventilation generated the most potent neutralising antibodies, observations showed.

Ho added: “We think that the sicker patients saw more virus and for a longer period of time, which allowed their immune system to mount a more robust response.”

Most SARS-CoV-2 antibodies bind to the spike glycoprotein while some of the most potent antibodies targeted the receptor-binding domain and others directed to the spike protein’s N-terminal region.

Neutralising antibodies could be useful even after a vaccine is available.