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biorxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.05.25.493397


Over the course of the pandemic variants have arisen at a steady rate. The most recent variants to emerge, BA.4 and BA.5, form part of the Omicron lineage and were first found in Southern Africa where they are driving the current wave of infection. In this report, we perform an in-depth characterisation of the antigenicity of the BA.4/BA.5 Spike protein by comparing sera collected post-vaccination, post-BA.1 or BA.2 infection, or post breakthrough infection of vaccinated individuals with the Omicron variant. In addition, we assess sensitivity to neutralisation by commonly used therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. We find sera collected post-vaccination have a similar ability to neutralise BA.1, BA.2 and BA.4/BA.5. In contrast, in the absence of vaccination, prior infection with BA.2 or, in particular, BA.1 results in an antibody response that neutralises BA.4/BA.5 poorly. Breakthrough infection with Omicron in vaccinees leads to a broad neutralising response against the new variants. The sensitivity of BA.4/BA.5 to neutralisation by therapeutic monoclonal antibodies was similar to that of BA.2. These data suggest BA.4/BA.5 are antigenically distinct from BA.1 and, to a lesser extent, BA.2. The enhanced breadth of neutralisation observed following breakthrough infection with Omicron suggests that vaccination with heterologous or multivalent antigens may represent viable strategies for the development of cross-neutralising antibody responses.

Breakthrough Pain
biorxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.05.20.492779


The second and third years of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic have been marked by the repeated emergence and replacement of variants with genetic and phenotypic distance from the ancestral strains, the most recent examples being Delta and Omicron. Here we describe a hamster contact exposure challenge model to assess protection conferred by vaccination or prior infection against re-infection. We found that 2-doses of self-amplifying RNA vaccine based on the ancestral spike ameliorated weight loss following Delta infection and decreased viral loads, but had minimal effect on Omicron/BA.1 infection. Prior infection with ancestral or Alpha variant was partially protective against Omicron/BA.1 infection, whereas all animals previously infected with Delta and exposed to Omicron became infected, although shed less virus. We further tested whether prior infection with Omicron/BA.1 protected from re-infection with Delta or Omicron/BA.2. Omicron/BA.1 was protective against Omicron/BA.2, but not Delta reinfection, again showing Delta and Omicron have a very large antigenic distance. Indeed, cross-neutralisation assays with human antisera from otherwise immunonaive individuals (unvaccinated and no known prior infection), confirmed a large antigenic distance between Delta and Omicron. Prior vaccination followed by Omicron or Delta breakthrough infection led to a higher degree of cross-reactivity to all tested variants. To conclude, cohorts whose only immune experience of COVID is Omicron/BA.1 infection may be particularly vulnerable to future circulation of Delta or Delta-like derivatives. In contrast, repeated exposure to antigenically distinct spikes, via infection and or vaccination drives a more cross-reactive immune response, both in hamsters and people.

Breakthrough Pain , Weight Loss
biorxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.12.31.474653


At the end of 2021 a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron, emerged and quickly spread across the world. It has been demonstrated that Omicrons high number of Spike mutations lead to partial immune evasion from even polyclonal antibody responses, allowing frequent re-infection and vaccine breakthroughs. However, it seems unlikely these antigenic differences alone explain its rapid growth; here we show Omicron replicates rapidly in human primary airway cultures, more so even than the previously dominant variant of concern, Delta. Omicron Spike continues to use human ACE2 as its primary receptor, to which it binds more strongly than other variants. Omicron Spike mediates enhanced entry into cells expressing several different animal ACE2s, including various domestic avian species, horseshoe bats and mice suggesting it has an increased propensity for reverse zoonosis and is more likely than previous variants to establish an animal reservoir of SARS-CoV-2. Unlike other SARS-CoV-2 variants, however, Omicron Spike has a diminished ability to induce syncytia formation. Furthermore, Omicron is capable of efficiently entering cells in a TMPRSS2-independent manner, via the endosomal route. We posit this enables Omicron to infect a greater number of cells in the respiratory epithelium, allowing it to be more infectious at lower exposure doses, and resulting in enhanced intrinsic transmissibility.