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Identification of SARS-CoV-2 Viral Protein Epitopes for Antibodies from Recovered COVID-19 Patients

COVID-19 Research Area(s): Diagnostics, Genomics & Transmission Dynamics, Epidemiology & Public Health, Equipment & Technology Innovations, Vaccines & Treatments

This study seeks to identify those parts of the SARS-CoV-2 surface viral proteins that have evoked a strong immune response in patients that have fully recovered from COVID-19. It involves using the antibodies present in their blood to check for their binding to membranes that feature in spots in arrays of chemically synthesized peptides that are patterned after the amino acid sequences in the viral proteins. Identification of these immunogenic sequences will help in the development of blood tests for determination if someone has been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past, and could help define peptides that may be useful in effective vaccines to immunize against infections by the virus.

The goal of this study is to identify the most immunogenic sequences in SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins that successfully elicit antibody production in patients that have fully recovered from COVID-19. The results from these analyses will help validate pre-existing serological tests for SARS-CoV-2 and help in the creation of improved diagnostics.

Successful recovery from COVID-19 requires the development of a strong immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection, which includes the production of antibodies that can bind and neutralize the virus. By tiling out the amino acid sequences present in the SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins into overlapping segments that are chemically synthesized as arrays of peptides spots on cellulose membranes, it is possible to probe with the serum antibodies to identify those peptides that are the most strongly immunogenic. These peptides can then be used to develop serological tests that when used with blood samples from other individuals can determine if they have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 in the past based on the presence of their own antibodies that immunoreact with the virus. These peptides may also be able to induce an immune response when used as part of a vaccine to elicit antibody production.

Kinexus Bioinformatics Corporation possesses SPOT peptide synthesis technology and expertise, and is a collaborator on this project. With this technology, the company can make designer peptides in arrays of several hundred spots on cellulose membranes by custom synthesis to identify strong immunogenic sequences in SARS-CoV-2. The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is presently trying to validate several commercial serological tests for SARS-CoV-2, and it has been found that many of these commercial tests do not seem to work reliably. In addition, there are many strong efforts to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. It is feasible that the strongly immunogenic viral peptides identified from the proposed work could in fact serve as immunogens for antibody production in people. At the very least, this information garnered from this project could help determine if future vaccines are indeed generating the desired antibodies in humans to provide them with the desired immunity.

Our key objectives are to test serum samples from recovered COVID-19 patients and other viral diseases and healthy controls for their unique immunoreactivity profiles against short peptide arrays patterned after much of the viral surface proteins of SARS-CoV-2. We plan to compare the results of these tests with data obtained by the BCCDC in their internal results with commercial serological tests for this virus.

The participants in the study will be healthy individuals of both male and female gender and diverse ages, who have fully recovered from COVID-19 infection as supported by positive genetic test results previously for SARS-CoV-2. The control groups will also have a balance of individuals of both genders and diverse age range.

Collaboration opportunities:
We are interested in collaborators that can provide serum samples from recovered COVID-19 patients, and those that can help in the large scale production and commercialization of the serological tests that we are developing.