New Lassa fever therapy may be on the horizon: Three rare antibodies, combined in a cocktail, are effective in fighting Lassa virus

A new study from scientists at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) gives researchers a guide to neutralizing Lassa virus using a trio of rare antibodies isolated from survivors of Lassa virus infection.

Lassa virus is a deadly virus endemic to West Africa, where it is primarily spread by rodents. The virus causes Lassa fever, a disease that strikes up to 300,000 each year and typically starts with flu-like symptoms, but can lead to severe illness, death, and long-lasting symptoms, such as deafness. For pregnant women Lassa virus is especially dangerous: nearly 90% of infections during pregnancy are fatal.

LJI scientists can now show exactly how a cocktail of three human antibodies can block viral infection. These antibodies may prove valuable in upcoming clinical trials for Lassa therapies, and the LJI team plans to use their new map of the Lassa virus surface glycoprotein to design a much-needed vaccine.

“We now know where these three therapeutic antibodies act and how exactly they act,” says Kathryn Hastie, Ph.D., an LJI Instructor and the Director of the Antibody Discovery Center at LJI.

The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine as a cover story on October 26, 2022. The research was led by the Saphire Lab at LJI, including Instructor Haoyang Li, Ph.D., Hastie and Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., in collaboration with Luis Branco, Ph.D., of Zalgen Labs LLC.

The power of neutralizing antibodies

In 2017, Hastie and her colleagues in the Saphire Lab (then at Scripps Research) published the first-ever structural images of the Lassa virus glycoprotein. Lassa uses glycoproteins to enter host cells and initiate infection. Hastie’s glycoprotein structure gave researchers an idea of what they were up against.

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