NIMR scientists identify key antibody in stopping flu

28 July 2011

Scientists at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (now part of the Francis Crick Institute) have identified and characterized an antibody that targets all of the strains of a type of influenza that is dangerous to humans (influenza-A), including swine flu, bird flu and Spanish flu.

This work, published online ahead of print in Science, raises the potential for emergency treatment and of developing pan-influenza vaccines designed to produce such an antibody, against the viral haemagglutinin - which is found on the surface of the virus and attaches it to the cell which is being infected.

The work led by Steve Gamblin and John Skehel at NIMR, published in Science, was carried out in collaboration with a team from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Switzerland. It follows earlier work from NIMR scientists which found that some strains of human influenza viruses carry a mutation in the viral neuraminidase (an enzyme on the surface of the virus) that makes them resistant to the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, but not Relenza.

Because of the threat and the cost of severe influenza, emphasized in the UK during the 2009 pandemic, there has been strong interest in developing drugs that would block all influenza virus infections and could, therefore, be stockpiled for use in emergencies. Antibodies that neutralize virus infections could be ideal candidates for such stockpiles.

Steve Gamblin explained: "A number of antibodies have been reported to be effective in blocking infection by one or the other group of influenza A viruses, but this paper describes a human antibody that reacts with all influenza A viruses by binding to one of their membrane glycoproteins, the haemagglutinin.

"Characterization of the antibody including by use of X-ray crystallography of antibody-haemagglutinin complexes, shows how, unlike previously reported antibodies, the new antibody is able to bind to both groups of viruses despite their characteristically  different structural features."

Scientists from the MRC National Institute for Medical Research and Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute will work together with scientists from UCL (University College London) in The Francis Crick Institute. The Institute will draw on the strengths of its founder organisations to conduct groundbreaking research into the biological mechanisms controlling cell, tissue and body function.

Original article

A neutralizing antibody selected from plasma cells that binds to group 1 and group 2 influenza A hemagglutinins

Davide Corti, Jarrod Voss, Steven J. Gamblin, Giosiana Codoni, Annalisa Macagno, David Jarrossay, Sebastien G. Vachieri, Debora Pinna, Andrea Minola, Fabrizia Vanzetta, Chiara Silacci, Blanca M. Fernandez-Rodriguez, Gloria Agatic, Siro Bianchi, Isabella Giacchetto-Sasselli, Lesley Calder, Federica Sallusto, Patrick Collins, Lesley F. Haire, Nigel Temperton, Johannes P. M. Langedijk, John J. Skehel, Antonio Lanzavecchia.

Science epub ahead of print.