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AstraZeneca enters Phase III clinical trials using antibodies found on the Berkeley Lights Beacon® system

How Vanderbilt University used the Berkeley Lights Platform to rapidly select high-performing antibodies that are currently being used by AstraZeneca to develop a COVID-19 therapeutic. 

This Springscientists at Vanderbilt University used the Berkeley Lights Platform to quickly identify lead molecules that bind and block the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein with the human ACE-2 receptor. Two of these antibodies are part of the long-acting antibody (LAAB) combination, also known as AZD7442, which is now part of two of AstraZeneca‘s Phase III clinical trials (1). 

Finding the neutralizing antibodies that make up AZD7442 

Using Berkeley Lights’ Opto™ Viral Neutralization workflow, scientists at Vanderbilt University functionally characterized tens of thousands of individual B cells recovered from patient samples in a single day. Following B cell activation, scientists used the Berkeley Lights’ Beacon system to:  

  • Clone tens of thousands of B cells into pico-liter sized chambers on a microfluidic chip; 
  • Perform multiple fluorescence-based assays to determine antigen specificity, cross-reactivity, and function; 
  • And recover high-value, functionally characterized lead candidate sequences.

Completing these tasks in one day allowed scientists to deliver the confirmed neutralizing antibody sequences to AstraZeneca in only 18 days (2). 

In a May 2020 GEN webinar, Vanderbilt researchers described their experiences working with the Beacon system and stated that the antibodies were selected based on their ability to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein and their ability to block the binding of the Spike protein to the human ACE-2 receptor (an essential interaction for infection of human cells). The selected antibodies were then further characterized to demonstrate their ability to block and neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Becoming part of AstraZeneca’s antibody treatment 

In June 2020, AstraZeneca announced licensing COVID-19-neutralising antibodies discovered in the Vanderbilt study with the goal of advancing the top two monoclonal antibody (mAb) candidates to clinical evaluation (3). 

Those two antibodies were combined to create AZD7442, the antibody cocktail that is currently undergoing two final Phase III clinical trials consisting of over 6,000 participants. Both of these antibodies were discovered on the Beacon system. Lonza Group, a chemicals and biotechnology company, recently agreed to manufacture the combination treatment for the participants.  

Take a look behind the scenes and watch the GEN webinar to learn more about how Vanderbilt characterized these antibodies. 



  1. https://www.astrazeneca.com/media-centre/press-releases/2020/covid-19-long-acting-antibody-laab-combination-azd7442-rapidly-advances-into-phase-iii-clinical-trials.html 
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0998-x 
  3. https://www.astrazeneca.com/media-centre/articles/2020/advancing-our-discovery-of-novel-coronavirus-neutralising-antibodies-against-covid-19.html