BOKU provides SARS CoV-2 antigens free of charge for worldwide COVID-19 research
Antibody tests are an important tool to assess the efficacy of vaccine candidates and to derive suitable vaccination modalities. High specificity and sensitivity are of great importance for the quality of an antibody test and determines whether a test can reliably distinguish between healthy and sick individuals. Over the past four months, BOKU has been working intensively on the production of various SARS CoV-2 specific proteins (antigens) in different biotechnological production systems in order to identify ideal candidates for the serological detection of SARS CoV-2 antibodies.
Since not every laboratory has access to recombinant protein production and purification technologies, BOKU is now making the antigens available to other academic and commercial partners, in line with the BOKU sustainability concept. This should ease investigations of COVID-associated research questions. In order to better coordinate the antigen distribution, the BOKU start-up Novasign GmbH has adapted its own online platform solution for BOKU. In addition, Amazon Web Service provided computing capacities for this project free of charge in the form of AWS credits. This enables BOKU to quickly and unbureaucratically process inquiries, thus further accelerating research.
As previously reported, BOKU initially received genetic material for the production of two coronavirus antigens from the virologist Florian Krammer (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, https://labs.icahn.mssm.edu/krammerlab/). In early April, scientists from the Departments of Biotechnology (DBT) and Department of Applied Genetics and Cell Biology (DAGZ) as well as the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) and DBT-associated spin-offs (Novasign, enGenes Biotech) formed an interdepartmental consortium. The aim of the consortium was to quickly provide a selection of SARS CoV-2 antigens for the development of an SARS CoV-2 antibody test. For this project, BOKU, alongside its partners, the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) and the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Vienna) received financial support from the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) within the framework of the WWTF COVID-19 Rapid Response Call.
In order to narrow down the wide range of possible antigen candidates, BOKU closely collaborated with the Institute of Medical Biochemistry and the Institute of Immunology at (Vetmeduni Vienna) that subjected all antigen candidates to an initial pre-validation. At Vetmeduni Vienna the antigens were tested in a 96-well ELISA plate format with a panel of pre-COVID sera and selected sera of COVID19 patients with different courses of disease.(MedUni Vienna) on. In addition, all proteins were also tested for functionality in an alternative test platform by the Competence Unit Molecular Diagnostics of the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the Clinical Department of Nephrology and Dialysis of MedUni Vienna. Based on antigen performance data with human sera as well as antigen production yield and the evaluation of BOKU’s capacity for process scale-up, two final antigen candidates made the race. These include a slightly truncated variant of the SARS CoV-2 spike receptor binding domain (RBD) produced in a human cell line and the viral nucleocapsid protein (NP), produced in bacteria. Based on these antigens, Vetmeduni has performed optimizations of the test set-upto improve the selectivity of the antibody test. The good cooperation between the cooperating institutions has paid off, as the test scored excellent in clinical validations done at the Clinical Institute for Laboratory Medicine at MedUni Vienna.
The highly pure proteins currently available through the platform are the two antigens now used as diagnostic antigens in these tests and a soluble form of the spike protein. The excellent cooperation of the BOKU departments and university institutions, the BOKU Core Facilities Biomolecular & Cellular Analysis as well as Mass Spectrometry, ACIB and enGenes Biotech, allowed for the establishment of complex production, purification and analysis processes for these proteins. These highly pure antigens have already been incorporated into several commercial products and can now be requested via the BOKU COVID19 portal.
DI Miriam Klausberger, Ph.D.
Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie
+43 (1) 47654 – 79858 od. 79928
Dr. Mark Dürkop
Institut für Bioverfahrenstechnik
+43 (1) 47654 – 79170