Despite Many Previous Manipulated Studies, University of Cambridge Study Confirms That Delta Variant Is Immune Evasive To Both Sera And Vaccines.
The largest ever and detailed study led by researchers from the University of Cambridge along with scientists and experts from University College London-UK, National Centre for Disease Control-India, CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology-India ,Imperial College London-UK,Sri Ganga Ram Hospital-India, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital-India.
The Genotype to Phenotype Japan (G2P-Japan) Consortium-Japan, The CITIID-NIHR BioResource COVID-19 Collaboration-UK, Vir Biotechnology-Switzerland, Hiroshima University-Japan, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health-Japan and the University of Copenhagen-Denmark has confirmed that the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant is immune evasive and that antibodies are less effective against the Delta variant.
The study findings were published in the peer reviewed journal: Nature in the last 36 hours. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03944-y
While the SARS-CoV-2 replicates, errors in its genetic makeup cause it to mutate. Some mutations make the virus more transmissible or more infectious; some help it evade the immune response, potentially making vaccines less effective, while others have little effect. One such variant, labeled the B.1.617.2 Delta variant, was first observed in India in late 2020. It has since spread around the globe in the UK, it is responsible nearly all new cases of coronavirus infection.
This new research combines findings from lab experiments and analysis of breakthrough cases to piece together signs of the Delta variant, or the B.1.617.2, being better at replication and resisting antibodies-these traits helped it rapidly overtake the Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant that was at the time the most transmissible version of the coronavirus.
The study team says that the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which has become the dominant variant in countries including India and the UK, has most likely spread through its ability to evade neutralizing antibodies and its increased infectivity.
Unlike the Delta variant, which was first found in India, the Alpha variant (first found in the UK) triggered only a 2.3-fold drop in potency of antibodies drawn from recovered COVID-19 patients.
However alarmingly, there was a six-fold drop in the ability of antibodies from a past infection to neutralize the Delta variant of the Sars-Cov-2, and a greater eight-fold reduction in the potency of antibodies elicited by vaccines according to the new study findings.
In other words, it takes eight times as many antibodies from a vaccinated individual to block the virus!
Professor Dr Ravi Gupta from the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, who is one of the key authors, told Thailand Medical News, “By combining lab-based experiments and epidemiology of vaccine breakthrough infections, we’ve shown that the Delta variant is better at replicating and spreading than other commonly-observed variants.
There’s also evidence that neutralizing antibodies produced as a result of previous infection or vaccination are less effective at stopping this variant. These factors are likely to have contributed to the devastating wave in India during the first quarter of 2021, where as many as half of the cases were individuals who had previously been infected with an earlier variant.”
The study also involved antibodies drawn from individuals who had a past infection, or received either the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. These were then made to neutralize the Alpha, Beta and Delta variants in a laboratory.
Interestingly this part of the analysis showed the most evasive variant was Beta (first found in South Africa), followed by Delta and Alpha.
The subsequent part of the study involved analysis of breakthrough infections among 112 healthcare workers in three Delhi hospitals, which showed that most were cases of Delta variant (99 infections), hence confirming the mutated virus was more likely to cause disease in vaccinated individuals compared to other versions of the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus.
The research also found a similar drop in the potency of lab-grown antibody therapy such as bamlanivimab and imdevimab.
Dr Anurag Agarwal, director, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, who is also part of the study added, “Infection in vaccinated healthcare workers with the Delta variant is a significant problem. Although they themselves may only experience mild Covid-19, they risk infecting individuals who have suboptimal immune responses to vaccination due to underlying health conditions, these patients could then be at risk of severe disease.”
The study team suggests due to this risk, infection control measures such as masking, social distancing, and hand washing must continue even in “post-vaccination era”.
The research also addresses why the Delta variant appears to be fitter than the others, despite showing a lower antibody resistance than the Beta variant. It cites lab analysis that shows the Delta variant to be more efficient in entering human cells and replicating within.
This is achieved via mutations that make its fusion with the host cell more efficient. Once within a cell, they are also able to replicate more widely as compared to the Alpha variant, according to experiments conducted in epithelial cells (the lining) of the airway and the lungs as well as 3D organoids (mini-organs grown from airway cells).
Utilizing 3D airway organoids or ‘mini-organs’ grown from cells from the airway, which mimic its behavior, the research team studied what happens when the virus reaches the respiratory tract. Working under secure conditions, the team used both a live virus and a ‘pseudotyped virus’ ie a synthetic form of the virus that mimicked key mutations on the Delta variant and used this to infect the organoids.
The study team found that the Delta variant was more efficient at breaking into the cells compared with other variants as it carried a larger number of cleaved spikes on its surface. Once inside the cells, the variant was also better able to replicate. Both of these factors give the virus a selection advantage compared to other variants, helping explain why it has become so dominant.
Joint senior author, Dr Partha Rakshit from the National Centre for Disease Control-India said, “The Delta variant has spread widely to become the dominant variants worldwide because it is faster to spread and better at infecting individuals than most other variants we’ve seen. It is also better at getting around existing immunity either through previous exposure to the virus or to vaccination though the risk of moderate to severe disease is reduced in such cases.”
The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant was first identified in the state of Maharashtra in late 2020 and spread throughout India, displacing the B.1.1.7 (Alpha) variant and other pre-existing lineages, including B.1.617.1 that was detected prior to B.1.617.2. Bayesian modelling indicates that the growth advantage of B.1.617.2 in Mumbai was most likely explained by increased transmissibility and immune evasion from previous infection.
Indeed in vitro, we demonstrate that B.1.617.2 is approximately 6-fold less sensitive to neutralising antibodies in sera from recovered individuals, and approximately 8-fold less sensitive to vaccine-elicited antibodies as compared to wild type Wuhan-1 bearing D614G. B.1.617.2 spike pseudotyped viruses exhibited compromised sensitivity to monoclonal antibodies against the receptor binding domain (RBD) and N-terminal domain (NTD), in particular to the clinically approved bamvalinumb and imdevimab monoclonal antibodies. B.1.617.2 demonstrated higher replication efficiency in both airway organoid and human airway epithelial systems as compared to B.1.1.7, associated with B.1.617.2 spike being in a predominantly cleaved state compared to B.1.1.7. In an analysis of vaccinated healthcare workers across three centres in India during a period of mixed lineage circulation, we observed reduced ChAdOx-1 vaccine efficacy against B.1.617.2 relative to non-B.1.617.2.
These combined epidemiological and in vitro data indicate that the dominance of B.1.617.2 in India has been most likely driven by a combination of evasion of neutralising antibodies in previously infected individuals and increased virus infectivity. B.1.617.2 threatens the efficacy of critically important therapeutic monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 and compromised vaccine efficacy mandates continued infection control measures in the post-vaccination era.