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Shortening Long Drug and Vaccine Development Timelines: Beating Coronavirus with Antibody Discovery

Developing a new vaccine or therapeutic is a slow and tedious process that can take years to go from discovery to the clinic to approval. This is a very long time to wait for patients with cancer and autoimmune diseases, but with highly infectious viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), this timeline translates to a catastrophic number of infected patients and ultimately deaths. Just between December 2019 and March 2020, there have been over 400,000 people infected with SARS-CoV2 almost 20,000 deaths1, with both numbers climbing daily. Unfortunately, current estimates suggest that it will be at least another year before a vaccine or anti-viral against SARS-CoV2 will be available for widespread use2.

So why does it take so long? Well, because finding an antibody therapeutic candidate is like finding a needle in a haystack. Researchers have to screen through over 10 million cells to identify potential lead candidates, and traditional screening techniques can’t simultaneously screen for binding and functionality. So low probability hits end up progressing through the development process. This means weeks spent re-expressing, growing, and finally testing candidates for functionality, only to find that many of them aren’t viable.

To accelerate drug and vaccine development, investigators are adding innovative techniques like the Berkeley Lights Antibody Discovery Workflow on the Beacon system to their arsenal. Scientists working to combat SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses can use the Antibody Discovery Workflow to identify antibodies that may bind, block, and neutralize viruses by screening B cells directly from human patient blood in less than 7 days. For comparison, traditional methods typically take several months to test for viral neutralization. Coupling functionality testing with screening early in the development process significantly saves time later on since researchers can focus their efforts on high probability hits instead of wasting time on candidates with a low probability of making it to market. This time savings has the potential to enable biopharmaceuticals to bring new SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody therapeutics to the market as part of the fight against COVID-19.

1. “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases”. Johns Hopkins University.
2. Coronavirus: How U.S. hospitals are preparing for COVID-19, and what leading health officials say about the virus. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-containment-dr-jon-lapook- 60-minutes-2020-03-08/