The very first library of avian flu virus antibodies has been successfully created by American and Turkish researchers.
The research group, led by Sea Lane Biotechnologies, revealed that the antibody libraries had been created using samples from survivors of the 2005/2006 "bird flu" outbreak in Turkey.
This advancement has boosted the hope for the development of a therapy to stop a pandemic in its tracks, and for a treatment for those infected.
It may also be useful in the development of a universal flu vaccine, say the researchers.
The team insists that the expanded treatment and containment options offered by Sea Lane's antibody libraries might help provide healthcare officials and governments with unprecedented resources to combat the serious global health threat.
"Three global influenza pandemics have occurred within the past 100 years, each with devastating consequences. Our study holds out the hope that a new outbreak could potentially be stopped at an early stage, and that effective treatment could be available to those infected," said Richard A. Lerner, the President of the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, CA) who collaborated with Sea Lane on the study.
So far, the new antibody libraries reported in the study have yielded more than 300 unique monoclonal antibodies that are active against H5N1 antigens, foreign substances that produce an immune system response.
Amongst them, the authors identified several broadly neutralizing antibodies that were effective against a number of contemporary subtypes of H5 (avian) flu. Three of the antibodies acatlogues were found to neutralize both the H1 (common seasonal flu) and H5 (avian) subtypes.
"The antibodies we have isolated have the potential to be used directly as therapeutic agents against multiple influenza subtypes, permitting the resolution of infection upon administration to an infected individual," said Peter Palese, the Horace W. Goldsmith Professor and Chairman of Microbiology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York, NY), another collaborator on the project.
"Perhaps most importantly, these antibodies may be used to identify cross-reactive epitopes on the hemagglutinin protein of an influenza virus. Identification of such epitopes may allow the rational design of vaccines with cross-subtype neutralizing activity. Such vaccines would constitute a major advance on current technology, and would be a first step towards the design of a universal influenza vaccine," Palese added.
During the study, the researchers were able to obtain the entire immunologic history of an individual's response, which offered a clearer picture of the relationships between antibodies and their relative effectiveness.
These insights may help scientists determine prescient strategies for therapies as the virus mutates in the future.
"Our libraries create a roadmap for improving the efficacy and/or specificity of therapeutic influenza antibodies. As a result, we might be able to engineer the best features of different antibodies into a single antibody that may not only treat contemporary strains of influenza, but also future influenza strains which normally would escape through simple mutations," said Arun Kashyap, Director of Influenza and Antibody Libraries for Sea Lane.