Good news on blocking a virus considered a global threat: Study shows antibody cocktail neutralizes Hendra variant

Scientists have reported good news on the pandemic preparedness front: A cocktail of four manufactured antibodies is effective at neutralizing a virus from the Henipavirus family, a group of pathogens considered to be a global biosecurity threat.

The study focused on protection against a recently identified variant of the Hendra virus, which, along with Nipah virus, has been responsible for deadly animal and human infection outbreaks in the Eastern Hemisphere. The 2011 movie Contagion depicts a fictional viral outbreak traced to an infected pig that is modeled on the Nipah virus.

The Hendra variant, identified in two fatally diseased horses and sick bats in Australia, featured dramatic genetic changes from the original virus — which created a sense of urgency among scientists to learn how existing countermeasures stack up against the restructured pathogen.

Researchers screened and determined in cell studies that several previously developed monoclonal antibodies designed to neutralize the original virus are also effective against the variant. The team also designed an additional antibody that could join three others in a powerful cocktail that would leave the virus with minimal ability to further mutate its way out of antibody recognition.

“These four antibodies can bind simultaneously, which is important for preventing future escaping mutants,” said co-lead study author Kai Xu, assistant professor of veterinary biosciences at The Ohio State University.

“If you have only one or two antibodies, the virus can easily develop a mechanism to escape antibody recognition. If you have more antibodies in a cocktail developed as a therapeutic, it will decrease the chances of an escape mutant by many orders of magnitude.”

The study was published online recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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