Covid treatment can be harvested

Cutting-edge therapy can help get ahead of viral variants. Arizona State University scientists use transient expression in tobacco plants to quickly and cheaply “harvest” large amounts of a new type of monoclonal antibody that prevents infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and has a low risk of generating resistance upon binding to an area away from the receptor used by the virus.

Viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, use a wide arsenal to deftly evade the immune system, proliferate and cause disease. Among its formidable weapons is the ability to mutate incessantly, developing new variants that the body’s natural or vaccine-induced defenses cannot combat.

In new research, Shawn Chen, a researcher at the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines, and Virotherapy and College of Science at Arizona State University, describes a breakthrough therapy for COVID-19. The method highlighted in the study uses transient expression in Nicotiana benthamiana, a relative of the tobacco plant, to grow and produce a monoclonal antibody, or mAb. The crucial advantage of the therapy is that it can protect against COVID-19, even as the virus tries to evade immune detection through mutations.

The treatment could be especially useful for elderly patients and people with compromised immune systems who are highly vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 and its emerging variants. The new therapy could also be added to existing ones for COVID-19, significantly increasing its protection. Furthermore, the use of plants to produce therapies offers several advantages over conventional methods, including cost savings, safety and speed of development.