The new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies that attack it in treatments using blood plasma from previously recovered patients.
Researchers are racing to establish whether the vaccines currently being rolled out across the globe are effective against the so-called 501Y.V2 variant, identified by South African genomics experts late last year in Nelson Mandela Bay.
"This lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies," the team of scientists from three South African universities working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) wrote in the study.
"Furthermore, 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralising antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma," they wrote, adding that their conclusions "highlight the prospect of reinfection … and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines."
The 501Y.V2 variant is 50% more infectious than previous ones, South African researchers are quoted in the report as saying.
British scientists and politicians have expressed concern that vaccines currently being deployed or in development could be less effective against the variant.
The paper said it remained to be seen how effective current vaccines were against 501Y.V2, which would only be determined by large-scale clinical trials. But results showed the need for new vaccines to be designed to tackle the evolving threat, it said.
SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 escapes neutralisation by South African COVID-19 donor plasma
Constantinos Kurt Wibmer, Kurt Wibmer, Frances Ayres, Tandile Hermanus, Mashudu Madzivhandila, Prudence Kgagudi, Bronwen E Lambson, Marion Vermeulen, Karin van den Berg, Theresa Rossouw, Michael Boswell, Veronica Ueckermann, Susan Meiring, Anne von Gottberg, Cheryl Cohen, Lynn Morris, Jinal N Bhiman, Penny L Moore
Published in bioRxiv on 19 January 2021
SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2, a novel lineage of the coronavirus causing COVID-19, contains multiple mutations within two immunodominant domains of the spike protein. Here we show that this lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies. Furthermore 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma. These data highlight the prospect of reinfection with antigenically distinct variants and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.