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Detection of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies with a cell-free PCR assay

By Kenneth Danh, Donna Grace Karp, Peter V Robinson, David Seftel, Mars Stone, Graham Simmons, Anil Bagri, Martin Schreibman, Andreas Buser, Andreas Holbro, Manuel Battegay, Laurence M Corash, Carl Hanson, Cheng-ting Tsai

Posted 02 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.28.20105692

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to more than 4 million confirmed infections worldwide and over 300,000 deaths. While Remdesivir has recently received FDA emergency use authorization for treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection, convalescent plasma (CP) with high titers of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) from recovered donors remains a promising and widely accessible method to mitigate severe disease symptoms. Here, we describe the development and validation of a cell-free neutralization PCR assay using SARS-CoV-2 spike protein S1 and human ACE2 receptor-DNA conjugates. By comparing with samples collected prior to the outbreak, we confirmed that NAbs were specifically detected in COVID-19 cases. Using our unique assay, the NAb signals are detectable as early as 10 days after onset of symptoms and continue to rise, plateauing after 18 days. Notably, we showed that the use of licensed pathogen reduction technology to inactivate potentially contaminating infectious pathogens in CP did not alter NAb signals, paving a path to safely administer effective CP therapies. The described neutralization PCR assay can serve as a qualification tool to easily identify suitable CP donors of a potentially lifesaving therapy. In addition, this assay tool is readily deployable in standard laboratories with biosafety level 2 capability, and can yield results within 2-3 hr. This advancement can facilitate research on factors driving diverse COVID-19 disease manifestations, and to evaluate the impact of various CP processing protocols on CP therapeutic efficacy.

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