On the rollercoaster ride of COVID-19 research, antibody tests were a major high. And then, sadly, there came a low because we all came to terms with how uncertain preliminary findings can be. Antibody tests might be less reliable than we hoped, and therefore less likely to predict immunity. Luckily, our best and brightest scientists didn’t give up, and instead fine tuned their methodology. New research suggests that a test that looks specifically for novel coronavirus neutralizing antibodies could be an effective tool in fighting the virus.
A study released this week in the journal Nature suggests that a new test, called the SARS-CoV-2 Surrogate Virus Neutralization Test (sVNT) or cPass for short, can find the specific neutralizing antibodies that help the body fight off COVID-19. “When you have a virus, you generate all these antibodies, but only a small fraction bind to the virus in a way that prevents it from infecting a cell,” Eric Wang, a representative of GenScript, the company that produces the test, told Forbes. “Those are the neutralizing antibodies.” This new study suggests that sVNT, or cPass, can detect neutralizing antibodies, which may be markers of immunity with 95-100% sensitivity, the outlet reported.
In lay terms, the immune system produces all kinds of antibodies in response to exposure to COVID-19 infection, but not all of the antibodies specifically fight off COVID-19. The cPass test only looks for those specific neutralizing antibodies, unlike previous tests, which measured the total antibodies a patient had after recovering from coronavirus. This test, then, looks for the needle of neutralizing antibodies in the haystack of total antibodies. Finding that needle is important because neutralizing antibodies make up less than 1% of the antibodies that current tests detect, and if we’re missing them, it may mean that we are also underestimating how many people are already immune to COVID-19, Forbes reported.
This kind of testing is important for figuring out how many people are immune, aka herd immunity, but it’s also important for vaccine development. In order to figure out whether a vaccine is effective, we need to know what kinds of antibodies the vaccines help people produce. “We need something to test whether the people who receive vaccinations generate neutralizing antibodies,” Wang told Forbes. “And not just any antibody. It has to be the neutralizing antibody.”
The test is already approved for use in Europe and is currently awaiting FDA approval. “We are very excited to see how this will shed new light on the current plaguing mysteries of Covid,” David Martz, vice president of new product management in Life Science Group at GenScript told Forbes. GenScript claims that it is safer, faster, easier, and more sensitive than other tests. Add to that less expensive, easily produced and distributed, and actually useful in keeping the human race intact and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.