Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire
Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire. Image from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases video

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded $6.4 million to Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, to support research toward COVID-19 antibody therapy.

The funding under the federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” will support efforts by Saphire and colleagues to analyze virus-fighting antibodies and track how the coronavirus may attempt to escape those antibodies.

“Most COVID-19 antibody discovery efforts focus on one half of antibody molecules—the part that anchors to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This funding allows us to collect information about the other half of the antibody—the part that signals to the rest of the immune system the presence of the virus,” said Saphire.

“By considering both halves of the antibody, we can gain a more complete picture of how antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 work best, and we can better choose the ones that will be most effective as therapeutics,” she added.

The research will take place as part of the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, which was launched in March with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to analyze promising therapeutic antibody candidates from dozens of laboratories around the world.

Saphire said the consortium, known as CoVIC, is an effective way for U.S. government scientists to get independent and standardized analysis of promising clinical candidates.

“The CoVIC provides an even platform for nonprofits, small biotechs and multinational corporations alike to accelerate their therapeutic candidates with complete and independent evaluation,” said Saphire. “CoVIC will also identify and mobilize antibody therapies to impoverished people around the world.”

“The virus will return here again and again unless we can achieve global immune protection. No one is safe until everyone is safe,” she said.

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is an independent, nonprofit research organization founded in 1988.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.