SARS CoV-2 variant B.1.617.1 is highly pathogenic in hamsters than B.1 variant
Abstract: Background: The recent emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.617 in India has been associated with a surge in the number of daily infections. This variant has combination of specific mutations L452R, E484Q and P681R reported to possibly enhance the transmissibility with likelihood of escaping the immunity. We investigated the viral load and pathogenic potential of B.1.617.1 in Syrian golden hamsters.
Methods: Two groups of Syrian golden hamsters (9 each) were inoculated intranasally with SARS CoV-2 isolates, B.1 (D614G) and B.1.617.1 respectively. The animals were monitored daily for the clinical signs and body weight. The necropsy of three hamsters each was performed on 3, 5- and 7- days post-infection (DPI). Throat swab (TS), nasal wash (NW) and organ samples (lungs, nasal turbinate, trachea) were collected and screened using SARS-CoV-2 specific Real-time RT-PCR.
Results: The hamsters infected with B.1.617.1 demonstrated increased body weight loss compared to B.1 variant. The highest viral load was observed in nasal turbinate and lung specimens of animals infected with B.1.167.1 on 3 DPI. Neutralizing antibody (NAb) and IgG response in hamsters of both the groups were observed from 5 and 7 DPI respectively. However, higher neutralizing antibody titers were observed against B.1.167.1. Gross pathology showed pronounced lung lesions and hemorrhage with B.1.671 compared to B.1.
Conclusions: B.1617.1 and B.1 variant varied greatly in their infectiousness, pathogenesis in hamster model. This study demonstrates higher pathogenicity in hamsters evident with reduced body weight, higher viral load in lungs and pronounced lung lesions as compared to B.1 variant.
Convergent evolution of SARS-CoV-2 spike mutations, L452R, E484Q and P681R, in the second wave of COVID-19 in Maharashtra, India
Abstract: As the global severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic expands, genomic epidemiology and whole genome sequencing are being constantly used to investigate its transmissions and evolution. In the backdrop of the global emergence of “variants of concern” (VOCs) during December 2020 and an upsurge in a state in the western part of India since January 2021, whole genome sequencing and analysis of spike protein mutations using sequence and structural approaches was undertaken to identify possible new variants and gauge the fitness of current circulating strains. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the predominant clade in circulation was a distinct newly identified lineage B.1.617 possessing common signature mutations D111D, G142D, L452R, E484Q, D614G and P681R, in the spike protein including within the receptor binding domain (RBD). Of these, the mutations at residue positions 452, 484 and 681 have been reported in other globally circulating lineages. The structural analysis of RBD mutations L452R and E484Q along with P681R in the furin cleavage site, may possibly result in increased ACE2 binding and rate of S1-S2 cleavage resulting in better transmissibility. The same two RBD mutations indicated decreased binding to selected monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and may affect their neutralization potential. Experimental validation is warranted for accessing both ACE2 binding and the effectiveness of commonly elicited neutralizing mAbs for the strains of lineage B.1.617. The emergence of such local variants through the accumulation of convergent mutations during the COVID-19 second wave needs to be further investigated for their public health impact in the rest of the country and its possibility of becoming a VOC.
Comparison of SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 (UK variant) and D614G variant transmission by different routes in Syrian hamsters
Abstract: Many SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern has been reported recently which were linked to increased transmission. In our earlier study on virus shedding using VOC 202012/01(UK variant) and D614G variant in hamster model, we observed significantly higher viral RNA shedding through nasal wash in case of UK variant. Hence, we compared the transmission of both the UK and D614G variant by various routes in Syrian hamsters to understand whether the high viral RNA shedding could enhance the transmission efficiency of the variant. The current study demonstrated comparable transmission efficiency of both UK and D614G variants of SARS-CoV-2 in Syrian hamsters.
Imported SARS-CoV-2 V501Y.V2 variant (B.1.351) detected in travelers from South Africa and Tanzania to India
Comparison of the pathogenicity and virus shedding of SARS CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 and D614G variant in hamster model
Abstract: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has posed a serious challenge to public health system and vaccination programs across the globe. We have studied the pathogenicity and virus shedding pattern of the SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 and compared with D614G variant in Syrian hamsters. VOC 202012/01 could produce disease in hamsters characterized by body weight loss and respiratory tract tropism but mild lung pathology. Further, we also documented that neutralizing antibodies developed against VOC 202012/01 could equally neutralize D614G variant. Higher load of VOC 202012/01 in the nasal wash specimens was observed during the first week of infection outcompeting the D614G variant. The findings suggest increased fitness of VOC 202012/01 to the upper respiratory tract which could lead to higher transmission. Further investigations are needed to understand the transmissibility of new variants.
Neutralization of UK-variant VUI-202012/01 with COVAXIN vaccinated human serum
Abstract: We performed the plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT50) using sera collected from the 26 recipients of BBV152/COVAXINTM against hCoV-19/India/20203522 (UK-variant) and hCoV27 19/India/2020Q111 (heterologous strain). A comparable neutralization activity of sera of the vaccinated individuals showed against UK-variant and the heterologous strain with similar efficiency, dispel the uncertainty of possible neutralization escape.
The quest continues for perfect COVID-19 vaccine
Natural Selection Plays an Important Role in Shaping the Codon Usage of Structural Genes of the Viruses Belonging to the Coronaviridae Family
Abstract: Viruses belonging to the Coronaviridae family have a single-stranded positive-sense RNA with a poly-A tail. The genome has a length of ~29.9 kbps, which encodes for genes that are essential for cell survival and replication. Different evolutionary constraints constantly influence the codon usage bias (CUB) of different genes. A virus optimizes its codon usage to fit the host environment on which it savors. This study is a comprehensive analysis of the CUB for the different genes encoded by viruses of the Coronaviridae family. Different methods including relative synonymous codon usage (RSCU), an Effective number of codons (ENc), parity plot 2, and Neutrality plot, were adopted to analyze the factors responsible for the genetic evolution of the Coronaviridae family. Base composition and RSCU analyses demonstrated the presence of A-ended and U-ended codons being preferred in the 3rd codon position and are suggestive of mutational selection. The lesser ENc value for the spike ‘S’ gene suggests a higher bias in the codon usage of this gene compared to the other structural genes. Parity plot 2 and neutrality plot analyses demonstrate the role and the extent of mutational and natural selection towards the codon usage pattern. It was observed that the structural genes of the Coronaviridae family analyzed in this study were at the least under 84% influence of natural selection, implying a major role of natural selection in shaping the codon usage.
Repurposed antiviral drugs for COVID-19 –interim WHO SOLIDARITY trial results
Background WHO expert groups recommended mortality trials in hospitalized COVID-19 of four re-purposed antiviral drugs.
Methods Study drugs were Remdesivir, Hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir (fixed-dose combination with Ritonavir) and Interferon-β1a (mainly subcutaneous; initially with Lopinavir, later not). COVID-19 inpatients were randomized equally between whichever study drugs were locally available and open control (up to 5 options: 4 active and local standard-of-care). The intent-to-treat primary analyses are of in-hospital mortality in the 4 pairwise comparisons of each study drug vs its controls (concurrently allocated the same management without that drug, despite availability). Kaplan-Meier 28-day risks are unstratified; log-rank death rate ratios (RRs) are stratified for age and ventilation at entry.
Results In 405 hospitals in 30 countries 11,266 adults were randomized, with 2750 allocated Remdesivir, 954 Hydroxychloroquine, 1411 Lopinavir, 651 Interferon plus Lopinavir, 1412 only Interferon, and 4088 no study drug. Compliance was 94-96% midway through treatment, with 2-6% crossover. 1253 deaths were reported (at median day 8, IQR 4-14). Kaplan-Meier 28-day mortality was 12% (39% if already ventilated at randomization, 10% otherwise). Death rate ratios (with 95% CIs and numbers dead/randomized, each drug vs its control) were: Remdesivir RR=0.95 (0.81-1.11, p=0.50; 301/2743 active vs 303/2708 control), Hydroxychloroquine RR=1.19 (0.89-1.59, p=0.23; 104/947 vs 84/906), Lopinavir RR=1.00 (0.79-1.25, p=0.97; 148/1399 vs 146/1372) and Interferon RR=1.16 (0.96-1.39, p=0.11; 243/2050 vs 216/2050). No study drug definitely reduced mortality (in unventilated patients or any other subgroup of entry characteristics), initiation of ventilation or hospitalisation duration.
Conclusions These Remdesivir, Hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir and Interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on hospitalized COVID-19, as indicated by overall mortality, initiation of ventilation and duration of hospital stay. The mortality findings contain most of the randomized evidence on Remdesivir and Interferon, and are consistent with meta-analyses of mortality in all major trials.
Development of equine antisera with high neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2
The pandemic of COVID -19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 is leading to a humongous impact on the mankind with over a million people succumbing to it worldwide. Although there are few drugs approved for the treatment, there is not yet a safe and effective vaccine available for COVID-19. Also, the passive immunization therapy with convalescent plasma, though potentially an effective treatment option for other viral disease has limitation of availability. The prior use of immunoglobulins generated in animals has proven to be effective in several viral and bacterial diseases. Here, we report the development and evaluation of equine hyper immune globulin raised against inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus. Post immunization neutralization titres of the equines demonstrated high neutralizing antibodies. To minimize the adverse effects, the immunoglobulins were digested with pepsin, and purified to obtain the F(ab’)2 fragments. The average nAb titre of the purified bulk was 22,927 and correlated with high IgG binding efficiency in ELISA. The quality control assessments of the different batches proved to have consistent nAb titres. The study provides evidence of the potential of generating highly purified F(ab’)2 from equines against SARS-CoV-2 that can demonstrate consistent and high neutralization activity. Further, in-vivo testing for efficacy of this indigenously developed, cost effective product will pave the way to clinical evaluation.
Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of BBV152: a whole virion inactivated SARS CoV-2 vaccine in the Syrian hamster model
The availability of a safe and effective vaccine would be the eventual measure to deal with SARS-CoV-2 threat. Here, we have developed and assessed the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (BBV152) in hamsters. Three dose vaccination regime with three formulations of BBV152 induced significant titres of SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG and neutralizing antibodies. The formulation with imidazoquinoline adsorbed on alum adjuvant remarkably generated a quick and robust immune response. Th1 biased immune response was demonstrated by the detection of IgG2 antibodies. Post-SARS-CoV-2 infection, vaccinated hamsters did not show any histopathological changes in the lungs. The protection of the hamsters was evident by the rapid clearance of the virus from lower respiratory tract, reduced virus load in upper respiratory tract, absence of lung pathology and robust humoral immune response. These findings confirm the immunogenic potential of BBV152 and further protection of hamsters challenged with SARS-CoV-2.
Genetic characterization of SARS-CoV-2 & implications for epidemiology, diagnostics & vaccines in India
Remarkable immunogenicity and protective efficacy of BBV152, an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in rhesus macaques
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis that has severely affected mankind and posed a great challenge to the public health system of affected countries. The availability of a safe and effective vaccine is the need of the hour to overcome this crisis. Here, we have developed and assessed the protective efficacy and immunogenicity of an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (BBV152) in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulata). Twenty macaques were divided into four groups of five animals each. One group was administered a placebo while three groups were immunized with three different vaccine candidates at 0 and 14 days. All the macaques were challenged with SARS-CoV-2 fourteen days after the second dose. The protective response was observed with increasing SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG and neutralizing antibody titers from 3rd-week post-immunization. Viral clearance was observed from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, nasal swab, throat swab, and lung tissues at 7 days post-infection in the vaccinated groups. No evidence of pneumonia was observed by histopathological examination in vaccinated groups, unlike the placebo group which showed features of interstitial pneumonia and localization of viral antigen in the alveolar epithelium and macrophages by immunohistochemistry. Data from this study substantiate the immunogenicity of the vaccine candidates and BBV152 is being evaluated in Phase I clinical trials in India (NCT04471519).
Evaluation of Safety and Immunogenicity of an Adjuvanted, TH-1 Skewed, Whole Virion 2 InactivatedSARS-CoV-2 Vaccine - BBV152
We report the development and evaluation of safety and immunogenicity of a whole virion inactivated SARS-COV-2 vaccine (BBV152), adjuvanted with aluminium hydroxide gel (Algel), or a novel TLR7/8 agonist adsorbed Algel. We used a well-characterized SARS-CoV-2 strain and an established vero cell platform to produce large-scale GMP grade highly purified inactivated antigen, BBV152. Product development and manufacturing were carried out in a BSL-3 facility. Immunogenicity was determined at two antigen concentrations (3µg and 6µg), with two different adjuvants, in mice, rats, and rabbits. Our results show that BBV152 vaccine formulations generated significantly high antigen-binding and neutralizing antibody titers, at both concentrations, in all three species with excellent safety profiles. The inactivated vaccine formulation containing TLR7/8 agonist adjuvant-induced Th1 biased antibody responses with elevated IgG2a/IgG1 ratio and increased levels of SARS-CoV-2 specific IFN-γ+ CD4 T lymphocyte response. Our results support further development for Phase I/II clinical trials in humans.
Economics and ethics of the COVID-19 vaccine: how prepared are we?
Full-genome sequences of the first two SARS-CoV-2 viruses from India
Background & objectives: Since December 2019, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has globally affected 195 countries. In India, suspected cases were screened for SARS-CoV-2 as per the advisory of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The objective of this study was to characterize SARS-CoV-2 sequences from three identified positive cases as on February 29, 2020.
Methods: Throat swab/nasal swab specimens for a total of 881 suspected cases were screened by E gene and confirmed by RdRp(1), RdRp(2) and N gene real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reactions and next-generation sequencing. Phylogenetic analysis, molecular characterization and prediction of B- and T-cell epitopes for Indian SARS-CoV-2 sequences were undertaken.
Results: Three cases with a travel history from Wuhan, China, were confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2. Almost complete (29,851 nucleotides) genomes of case 1, case 3 and a fragmented genome for case 2 were obtained. The sequences of Indian SARS-CoV-2 though not identical showed high (~99.98%) identity with Wuhan seafood market pneumonia virus (accession number: NC 045512). Phylogenetic analysis showed that the Indian sequences belonged to different clusters. Predicted linear B-cell epitopes were found to be concentrated in the S1 domain of spike protein, and a conformational epitope was identified in the receptor-binding domain. The predicted T-cell epitopes showed broad human leucocyte antigen allele coverage of A and B supertypes predominant in the Indian population.
Interpretation & conclusions: The two SARS-CoV-2 sequences obtained from India represent two different introductions into the country. The genetic heterogeneity is as noted globally. The identified B- and T-cell epitopes may be considered suitable for future experiments towards the design of vaccines and diagnostics. Continuous monitoring and analysis of the sequences of new cases from India and the other affected countries would be vital to understand the genetic evolution and rates of substitution of the SARS-CoV-2.
Genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 strains among Indians returning from Italy, Iran & China, & Italian tourists in India
Revisiting regulatory framework in India for accelerated vaccine development in pandemics with an evidence-based fast-tracking strategy