18. February 2021 | Press releases:

Long-lasting Immune Response Possible in COVID-19 Patients Production of viral proteins at TU Braunschweig for ATAC study

The strength and duration of the acquired immune response of COVID-19 patients to the SARS-CoV-2 virus is crucial for future protection. Studies of corona patients have shown that the body can establish long-lasting protection against re-infection. A team of researchers from the Technische Universität Braunschweig, together with partners from the EU consortium ATAC (Antibody Therapy Against Corona), has published the results of studies on the longevity of the immune response of COVID-19 patients in the medical journal “Med” published by Cell Press.

Observation of immune responses during infection with coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) may provide useful information for the development of vaccination strategies against this virus and its new variants. For the ATAC study, 119 samples from 88 donors were analyzed. The B-cell and T-cell responses of patients from Italy and Sweden who contracted COVID-19 between February and October 2020 were studied.

In the majority of patients, antibodies of the type immunoglobulin G (IgG) against the virus were still present in the blood eight months after the disease. Furthermore, the immune system also produced memory B cells. These are important for a more efficient antibody response to a later, renewed infection. The acquired T-cell response, on the other hand, is critical for eliminating cells infected with the virus and can prevent further replication of the viruses in the body. The number of anti-SARS-CoV-2 specific T cells increased over the study period. This suggests that a long-lasting immune response and thus protection against SARS-CoV-2 is possible. However, for further conclusions, the immune response of patients would need to be studied over several years.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is composed of different proteins. Knowing the protein building blocks and their properties will help in producing these proteins for testing in blood serum and assessing the immune response. “We had already started to systematically produce SARS-CoV-2 proteins in different systems in February 2020. Here, I am pleased that the production system I developed in insect cells proved to be the most suitable for these viral proteins and that we were able to use it to test patient serum very quickly and extensively,” said Dr. Maren Schubert from the Department of Biotechnology at TU Braunschweig.

“The production of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins was not only essential for this project, but also for the development of active substances, in particular our recombinant antibodies for the therapy of COVID-19 sufferers,” adds participating scientist Dr. Federico Bertoglio, referring to the development of the human antibody COR-101 by CORAT in Braunschweig. The antibody is considered a promising basis for drug development.

Professor Michael Hust, head of the ATAC team at TU Braunschweig: “We are pleased that we were able to contribute to this important study with our technologies. Our experience also shows that we are excellently positioned in Braunschweig to better prepare for future pandemics.”

Professor Stefan Dübel, Head of the Department of Biotechnology at TU Braunschweig, said, “This project in the context of the Corona pandemic has benefited greatly from the international collaboration we have been conducting for many years in the field of infection research. As a result, it serves as a model for a future Europe-wide coordinated defense strategy against further pandemics.”

In addition to the Department of Biotechnology at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden), Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Bellinzona (Switzerland), Joint Research Center (JRC) of the European Commission in Ispra (Italy) and Policlinico San Matteo in Pavia (Italy) were also involved in the study.