UK scientists have developed a new test will be able to demonstrate how well different Coronavirus vaccines “bind” to spike proteins in different Covid mutations, including the new Omicron variant.
The main aim is to determine how each individual responds to Covid-19 and to different vaccines, and to establish whether someone needs a booster.
In more detail, Exeter-based Professor Andrew Shaw and his team have developed a medtech instrument that can show the level of antibodies an individual has to coronavirus and with two tests, around 100 days apart, believe they can predict when those levels are likely to fall into a danger zone.
The test, now available in a London clinic, measures antibodies to three different parts of the virus and results are known within seven minutes. It will shortly be modified to detect antibodies to the Spike protein of the Omicron variant, City A.M. was told today.
Spike protein is key
With 30 mutations in Covid’s spike protein, the vaccines of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and other pharmaceuticals aim to target most of them, if not all.
The mutations, shown above in an image from the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium in Cambridge, labels different regions. Those in red indicate that antibodies all over the Spike may have different binding properties and thus unknown levels of protection.
Scientists have expressed fears that Omicron is able to “evade” vaccine protection as the jab’s antibodies will not bind as readily to the mutated spike.
“The fear now is the vaccine antibodies will not bind as readily to the Spike, so the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be more transmissible and infectious,” Professor Shaw explained.
“Our technology should even tell how well the different vaccines are performing, and check how lateral flow tests perform against Omicron.”Exeter-based Professor Andrew Shaw
Shaw continued: “Every person’s immune response to the various Coronavirus vaccines is unique. [For some] antibody levels declined more rapidly than planned. Others are super-responders with long-lasting antibodies for whom additional boosters may create inflammatory auto-antibodies.”
He added that he expects delivery of the recombinant Omicron Spike protein shortly from Sino Biological, Inc., which can then be integrated into the Attomarker Triple Antibody Test to compare directly how well the vaccine antibodies bind to the original S protein and the new Omicron Spike protein.
“If we can get this right it offers a precision personalised medicine approach to the pandemic where we can keep immunity levels above key thresholds.”
“In theory this would mean that the reservoir for the virus will get smaller. We also have a handheld version of the instrument in development which means that it could be used all over the world.”
“We will be huddling around the instrument just like we did during first successful test at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust at the start of the pandemic,” Shaw concluded.
The scientific breakthrough comes as a new study in South Africa suggests that the new Omicron variant has “substantial” ability to re-infect people who previously had Covid-19 simply because it is able to evade immunity systems in people’s bodies.
The study estimated that the risk of reinfection for November 1 to 27, when Omicron started circulating, was 2.39 times higher than in the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020.
In contrast, the risk of reinfection in South Africa was lower in the Beta and Delta waves than in the first wave.
The findings suggest Omicron could cause a wave of infections in people with some prior immunity.
The authors concluded: “Population-level evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is associated with substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection. In contrast, there is no population-wide epidemiological evidence of immune escape associated with the Beta or Delta variants.”
The researchers, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), looked at data from almost 2.8m people with Covid-19 who had a positive test result at least 90 days before November 27.
Some 35,670 suspected reinfections were identified among the 2,796,982 people (1.2 per cent).
The research, which has not been peer-reviewed, found people who had tested positive for Covid could pick up the virus again.
It did not say how the variant will behave when spreading in a highly vaccinated population such as the UK, or whether the virus can evade the protection offered by vaccines against severe disease.
“This finding has important implications for public health planning, particularly in countries like South Africa with high rates of immunity from prior infection.
“Urgent questions remain regarding whether Omicron is also able to evade vaccine-induced immunity and the potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death.”