On Mar 17, China's Ministry of Science and Technology released “Top 10 Chinese Scientific Advances of 2022”, including “COVID-19 variants and immune escape mechanisms” completed by Xiaoliang Sunney Xie and Yunlong Cao, in collaboration with Xiangxi Wang from Institute of Biophysics at Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
COVID-19 variants and immune escape mechanisms
The continuous mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron strain has made it crucial to timely analyze how new variants can escape immunity established by infection and vaccination for future vaccine design and epidemic prevention. Xiaoliang Sunney Xie and Yunlong Cao’s team at Changping Laboratory (CPL), in collaboration with Xiangxi Wang’s team from CAS, were the first to reveal the antibody escape mechanisms and mutation evolution characteristics of Omicron and its subvariants. They illustrated the neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) escape mechanism of Omicron BA.1 and its relationship with the structural characteristics of the viral spike protein. The team found that Omicron BA.4/BA.5 can escape NAbs induced by BA.1 infection and vaccination, suggesting that it is unlikely to achieve herd immunity through Omicron infection; Applying high-throughput deep mutational scanning (DMS) technology previously developed in the same lab, the CPL team successfully predicted mutative sites in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) that can result in neutralizing antibodies escape and prospectively identified several broad-spectrum neutralizing antibodies. The relevant research provides a theoretical basis to develop broad-spectrum COVID-19 vaccines and antibody drugs. It is also a critical tool for global COVID-19 prevention and control.