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Omicron Scare: The new COVID19 variant neutralised by booster dose, finds study

The scientists from KU Leuven began by testing nine monoclonal antibodies used in clinical practice or currently in preclinical development. "We now need to study the length of protection of the booster dose. The vaccines probably become less effective in offering protection against contracting the virus, but they should continue to protect against severe forms," explained Olivier Schwartz.   

Health Desk Edited by: Health Desk
New Delhi Published on: January 11, 2022 8:49 IST
Omicron
Image Source : FREEPIK

Omicron Scare: The new COVID19 variant neutralised by booster dose, finds study

Highlights

  • According to a study, the booster dose of Pfizer remained effective against Omicron
  • India reports 1,68,063 new Covid cases, 277 deaths in last 24 hours

The rising number of Omicron cases in the country has raised concerns. The new COVID-19 Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. While experts have signalled towards a possible third wave, peak in India is expected to arrive at the end of January with daily cases of four to eight lakh and the peak in Delhi and Mumbai are expected around mid-January with daily cases of 50,000-60,000 and 30,000 cases, respectively. However, according to a study, the booster dose of Pfizer remained effective against Omicron.

The scientists from KU Leuven began by testing nine monoclonal antibodies used in clinical practice or currently in preclinical development. Six antibodies lost all antiviral activity, and the other three were 3 to 80 times less effective against Omicron than against Delta. 

The antibodies Bamlanivimab/Etesevimab (a combination developed by Lilly), Casirivimab/Imdevimab (a combination developed by Roche and known as Ronapreve), and Regdanvimab (developed by Celtrion) no longer had any antiviral effect against Omicron. The Tixagevimab/Cilgavimab combination (developed by AstraZeneca under the name Evusheld) was 80 times less effective against Omicron than against Delta.

"We demonstrated that this highly transmissible variant has acquired significant resistance to antibodies. Most of the therapeutic monoclonal antibodies currently available against SARS-CoV-2 are inactive," commented Olivier Schwartz, co-last author of the study and Head of the Virus and Immunity Unit at the Institut Pasteur. 

The scientists observed that the blood of patients previously infected with COVID-19, collected up to 12 months after symptoms, and that of individuals who had received two doses of the vaccine, taken five months after vaccination, barely neutralized the Omicron variant. But the sera of individuals who had received a booster dose of Pfizer, analyzed one month after vaccination, remained effective against Omicron. 

Five to 31 times more antibodies were nevertheless required to neutralize Omicron, compared with Delta, in cell culture assays. These results help shed light on the continued efficacy of vaccines in protecting against severe forms of the disease. 

"We now need to study the length of protection of the booster dose. The vaccines probably become less effective in offering protection against contracting the virus, but they should continue to protect against severe forms," explained Olivier Schwartz. 

"This study shows that the Omicron variant hampers the effectiveness of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, but it also demonstrates the ability of European scientists to work together to identify challenges and potential solutions. While KU Leuven was able to describe the first case of Omicron infection in Europe using the Belgian genome surveillance system, our collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Paris enabled us to carry out this study in record time. There is still a great deal of work to do, but thanks to the support of the European Union's Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), we have clearly now reached a point where scientists from the best centers can work in synergy and move towards a better understanding and more effective management of the pandemic," commented Emmanuel Andre, a Professor of Medicine at KU Leuven.

The scientists concluded that the many mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron variant enabled it to largely evade the immune response. Ongoing research is being conducted to determine why this variant is more transmissible from one individual to the next and to analyze the long-term effectiveness of a booster dose.