Nipah virus outbreak: What are monoclonal antibodies?

Nipah virus outbreak

Context: Recently, India reached out to Australia to procure monoclonal antibody doses to combat the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. The dosage has to be administered at an early stage of infection.

What is an antibody?

  • They are proteins produced by the immune system that neutralize any foreign substance (bacteria, virus) entering the human body.
  • An antibody attaches itself to an antigen – a foreign substance, usually a disease-causing molecule – and helps the immune system eliminate it from the body.
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What is a monoclonal antibody?

  • Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the behaviour of antibodies produced by the immune system to protect against diseases and foreign substances.
  • Monoclonal antibodies are specifically designed to target certain antigens.

How do monoclonal antibodies work?

  • Monoclonal antibodies are specifically engineered and generated to target a disease. They are meant to attach themselves to the specific disease-causing antigen. An antigen is most likely to be a protein.
  • For example, most successful monoclonal antibodies during the pandemic were engineered to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The binding prevented the protein from exercising its regular functions, including its ability to infect other cells.
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What is m102.4?

  • m102.4 is a monoclonal antibody that binds itself to the immunodominant receptor-binding glycoprotein of the Nipah virus, potentially neutralising it. m102.4 neutralises Hendra and Nipah viruses both outside and inside of living organisms.
    • Both Hendra and Nipah viruses are a family of viruses that contain a single-strand RNA of the negative-sense genome, similar to the ones that cause diseases like measles, influenza etc., and replicate within infected cells. 
  • Manufactured by: Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), University of Queensland.
  • The antibody has passed phase-one clinical trials — which means that researchers tested it with a relatively small number of people to estimate the right dose of treatment that also does not cause side effects.
  • As of now, the drug is used on a ‘compassionate use’ basis — a treatment option that allows the use of an unauthorised medicine under strict conditions among people where no other alternative and/or satisfactory authorised treatment is known to be possible and where patients cannot enter clinical trials for various reasons. 
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About Nipha Virus (NiV):

  • Transmission: Nipah virus is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected animals, especially bats and pigs. Nipah virus infection can be transmitted through contaminated food or directly from person to person.
  • Natural Reservoir: Fruit Bats (also known as flying foxes) are believed to be the natural reservoir/primary carriers of the Nipah virus.
  • Symptoms:
    • Fever, muscle pain, and respiratory problems (similar to that of influenza).
    • Inflammation of the brain as well as late onset of Encephalitis can also occur.
    • The case fatality rate is between 65 percent and 100 percent.
  • Treatment: NiV is on the top-10 priority list of pathogens identified by the World Health Organization. Currently, there are no approved vaccines available against NiV.
Source: The Hindu

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