The Pirbright Institute has generated the first pig antibodies against swine influenza (flu) that protect against infection and recognise the same parts of the flu virus as human antibodies. This indicates they could be used to develop and assess human antibody therapies and their delivery methods. The pig antibodies also have the potential to improve how flu virus evolution is monitored and inform decisions about annual flu vaccine selection.
Antibodies form a vital part of the immune system’s response and help to fight off infections by latching on to important parts of invading microorganisms to neutralise them. In the case of flu viruses, many antibodies target a protein on the surface of the virus called haemagglutinin, which then prevents the virus from entering cells and replicating.
Pirbright scientists worked in collaboration with the University of Oxford, The Francis Crick Institute and The Pirbright Livestock Antibody Hub to generate pig antibodies in the laboratory (known as monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs). These are the first pig mAbs to be generated which target the influenza virus.
These mAbs recognise the same two main sites of the flu virus haemagglutinin protein that are targeted by human antibodies, and were found to be just as effective at neutralising the swine flu strain that caused the 2009 pandemic. Pigs that were treated with one of the mAbs prior to infection were protected from severe disease and the flu virus was eliminated from their lungs. This indicates that the mAbs have great therapeutic potential and could be used to evaluate mAb delivery methods.
Ferrets are commonly used as models to monitor flu virus evolution and to design or select vaccines that will provide the best protection against human seasonal flu strains. However, ferret antibodies only recognise one of the two main haemagglutinin sites that human antibodies target. The findings in the study, published in PLOS Pathogens, demonstrate that pig mAbs are more closely matched to human antibodies and could therefore improve the reliability of human vaccine selection.
Dr Elma Tchilian, Mucosal Immunology Group Leader at Pirbright, said: “These data demonstrate that pigs and humans, which are both natural hosts for influenza viruses, generate very similar immune responses. This makes the pig an excellent translational model for testing novel vaccines and monoclonal antibody delivery methods.”
Professor John Hammond, leader of The Pirbright Livestock Antibody Hub, added: “These results are a fantastic demonstration of how The Pirbright Livestock Antibody Hub can promote the use of new tools and methods, providing the opportunity to examine detailed antibody responses to inform the next generation of vaccines and therapies. This work reinforces the use of pigs as powerful model to predict human responses in infection and vaccination.”
Notes to editors
The paper Protective porcine influenza virus-specific monoclonal antibodies recognize similar haemagglutinin epitopes as humans will be available on the PLOS Pathogens website from Thursday 4 March 2021 at 7PM GMT:
This work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Scientists from Oxford were also supported by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences (CIFMS), China Grant, the Townsend-Jeantet Prize Charitable Trust and the Medical Research Council (MRC, UKRI).
Scientists from The Francis Crick Institute were supported by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
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About The Pirbright Institute
The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.
The Institute is an independent company, limited by guarantee and a registered charity, governed by a Board of non-executive Trustee Directors.
With an annual income of £35 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £25.2 million strategic investment from BBSRC UKRI during 2019-2020, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.
For more information about The Pirbright Institute see: www.pirbright.ac.uk
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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20.
We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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