Breakthrough: Antibodies could defend against a pandemic

In what could prove to be a major breakthrough, a small "family" of monoclonal antibodies has proven effective in guarding against a range of Type A influenza strains, including the dread H5N1 flu viruses, according to an elite team of U.S. researchers. Reporting in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, the researchers say that the monoclonal antibodies proved effective against Type A strains in mice. And because antibodies can be manufactured quickly, the scientists say that a combo therapy of antibodies and anti-virals could be used as a first line of defense against a flu epidemic or bird flu pandemic.

"This is an elegant research finding that holds considerable promise for further development into a medical tool to treat and prevent seasonal as well as pandemic influenza," notes NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "In the event of an influenza pandemic, human monoclonal antibodies could be an important adjunct to antiviral drugs to contain the outbreak until a vaccine becomes available.

The researchers involved have an impressive set of pedigrees. Wayne Marasco, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston led the research team, which included collaborators from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., and the CDC in Atlanta.

The team scanned billions of monoclonal antibodies produced in bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages, and found 10 antibodies active against the four major strains of H5N1 avian influenza viruses. In a collaboration with Ruben O. Donis, Ph.D., of the CDC Influenza Division, they found that three of these monoclonal antibodies had broader neutralization capabilities.

- check out the report in the Los Angeles Times
- and read the article in the New York Times