Striking Antibody Evasion Manifested by the Omicron Variant of SARS-CoV-2

The Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of SARS-CoV-2 was only recently detected in southern Africa, but its subsequent spread has been extensive, both regionally and globally. It is expected to become dominant in the coming weeks, probably due to enhanced transmissibility. A striking feature of this variant is the large number of spike mutations that pose a threat to the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies. This concern is amplified by the findings from our study. We found B.1.1.529 to be markedly resistant to neutralization by serum not only from convalescent patients, but also from individuals vaccinated with one of the four widely used COVID-19 vaccines. Even serum from persons vaccinated and boosted with mRNA-based vaccines exhibited substantially diminished neutralizing activity against B.1.1.529. By evaluating a panel of monoclonal antibodies to all known epitope clusters on the spike protein, we noted that the activity of 18 of the 19 antibodies tested were either abolished or impaired, including ones currently authorized or approved for use in patients. In addition, we also identified four new spike mutations (S371L, N440K, G446S, and Q493R) that confer greater antibody resistance to B.1.1.529.

The Omicron variant presents a serious threat to many existing COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, compelling the development of new interventions that anticipate the evolutionary trajectory of SARS-CoV-2.

Competing Interest Statement
L.L., S.I., M.S.N., J.Y., Y.H., and D.D.H. are inventors on patent applications on some of the antibodies described in this manuscript.

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