Texas Biomed’s first COVID-19 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
San Antonio, Texas (Nov. 19, 2020) – Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) in San Antonio, Texas, was awarded $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to test the efficacy of human monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection. MAbs are human-made proteins meant to mimic human immune system antibodies. Texas Biomed Professors Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D. and Jordi B. Torrelles, Ph.D. will co-lead the project to evaluate the protective efficacy of these MAbs in small rodent models, developed at Texas Biomed, on behalf of the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium (CoVIC), an international nonprofit consortium evaluating MAb therapeutics for COVID-19.
“Texas Biomed was one of the first research institutes to develop the rodent models to study COVID-19,” said Dr. Martinez-Sobrido, Professor at Texas Biomed. “The data we were able to produce in such a short period in our rodent animal studies, along with our infrastructure, positioned us to conduct these tests.”
The two rodent models developed by research groups at Texas Biomed represent the best option for testing all these MAbs because of feasibility and logistics, he added.
COVID-19 is the cause of more than 1.3 million deaths and has infected 55 million people worldwide. With flu season upon us, the urgency to develop prophylactics meant to prevent the disease and therapies meant to minimize effects from or cure the disease is critical. In this large-scale study, Drs. Martinez-Sobrido and Torrelles aim to identify highly effective combinations of SARS-CoV-2 MAbs that offer protection against the progression of disease using K18 hACE2 transgenic mice and/or golden Syrian hamsters, which both have been identified by Texas Biomed researchers as effective models to study SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“The MAbs we will receive are coming from labs from around the world for key experiments in this global effort to advance treatments against SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Torrelles, Professor at Texas Biomed, Lead of the Population Health Program and Director of the BSL-3 Program. “The tests will include different concentrations and possible combinations of multiple MAbs to see which gives lasting protection.”
This is one of the largest rodent projects Texas Biomed has conducted, said Joanne Turner, Ph.D., Texas Biomed Vice President, Research.
“We will use roughly 2,900 rodents to test 150 MAbs, which will be provided to us from CoVIC. The tests will be spaced out and conducted in batches. Right now the team is working to establish the testing variables for the project,” she explained. “It’s easier to conduct these large scale tests using small animal models because researchers can generate faster results, and it’s less expensive.”
Several scientists at Texas Biomed participate in Gates Foundation-funded consortia, such as the COVID-19 Nonhuman Primate Imaging Consortium and the Consortium for TB Vaccine Discovery Research Communities, and have been supported by the foundation for a variety of studies on diseases including HIV, TB, malaria and schistosomiasis, she added.
Other team members working on this project include Jun‐Gyu Park, Ph.D.; Paula Pino‐Tamayo, M.Sc.; Alison Whigham, M.Sc.; Shannan Hall-Ursone, D.V.M.; Colwyn Headley, Ph.D.; Juan Ignacio Garcia, Ph.D.; Amberlee Hicks; Andreu Garcia-Vilanova; Chengjin Ye, Ph.D.; and Anna Allue-Guardia, Ph.D.
The CoVIC consortium, headquartered at La Jolla Institute for Immunology and directed by Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, is funded by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and includes scientists on four continents in a multidisciplinary effort to advance therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2 and future variants. Efforts of this international consortium will culminate in efficacy testing at Texas Biomed.
Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to eradicating infection and advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed partners with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapeutics against viral pathogens causing AIDS, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria and schistosomiasis disease. The Institute has programs in host-pathogen interaction, disease intervention and prevention and population health to understand the links between infectious diseases and other diseases such as aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org.