New Delhi: Groups of eminent scientists and researchers from various parts of the world have jointly conducted research on a project on the theme, “Structure-Function Analyses of New SARS-CoV-2 Variants B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and B. Clinical, Diagnostic, Therapeutic and Public Health Implications” which has been published in MDPI Viruses journal.

This project was jointly headed by Prof Seyed E. Hasnain, IIT Delhi; Prof. Subhash Hira, University of Washington, Seattle, USA; Prof D. Sundar IIT Delhi; and Dr Syed Asad Rahman. BioInception, Cambridge.

On the structure-function relationship of these mutations, Prof Seyed E. Hasnain, IIT Delhi who was earlier Vice Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard, says, “In our research, we have assessed the structure-function relationship of these mutations. Interestingly, some of the mutations in the new variants can increase transmissibility and cause antibody resistance indicating that it can lead to reinfection as seen from the second wave of South African/Brazilian population and may also bypass the immune recognition by the vaccine induced antibodies. This is particularly concerning when vaccination drives are at full throttle around the globe. Even countries like Brazil which are way behind any meaningful vaccination drive at the national level, are facing infection by double mutants which, as per the New York Times, is witnessing the worst possible infection burden in the world taking 125 human lives every hour.”

On how this research is going to be useful, Hasnain says, “As we move from here, our research can be useful in predicting transmission and immune evasive capabilities of new variants. Outcomes from such predictions can be useful in devising early measures to prevent the epidemics spiraling out of control. For scientific policymakers, it highlights the need for periodic mass sequencing of Covid-19 samples to assess prevalence of these specific variants or new variants which may arise in future. For the general public, our work further cautions that one time vaccinations may not be sufficient for long-term protection against Covid-19 and that people might get re-infected with a newer variant in future. This also highlights the need for adopting a strategy of yearly vaccination as has become the convention for flu vaccination.”

“The emergence of new 501Y.V1, 501Y.V2 and P.1 variants marks the beginning of antigenic drift for SARS-CoV-2 owing to cluster of mutations acquired in the S protein [55]. The rise of such variants is particularly concerning as these might escape antibody therapies and vaccine induced protection, during a period when massive vaccination drives are already in progress globally,” the conclusion drawn by the researchers says.

“The N501Y mutation in all three variants may enhance ACE2 affinity, but might not confer antibody resistance individually or neutralizing effects by convalescent plasma and vaccine sera. In accordance with recently published reports, our findings also indicate reinfection potential of 501Y.V2 and P.1 variants in the South African and Brazilian population, respectively,” the paper concludes. Researchers have further concluded, “In a nutshell, the cluster of mutations in the S protein can have significant impact on viral transmission, infectivity, diagnostics and host immune responses. The N501Y mutation, in particular, leads to stronger interaction with human ACE2 compared to its wildtype, although other co-occurring mutations along with N501Y might have a different overall effect. In addition, the combined impact of all the mutations in the variants warrants further studies to provide insights into the infectivity and pathogenesis associated with the variants.”

The names and affiliations of scientists and researchers involved are: Jasdeep Singh, PhD, Jasmine Samal, PhD, Vipul Kumar, BTech, Jyoti Sharma, PhD, Usha Agarwal, MD, Nasreen Z. Ehtesham, PhD, D. Sundar, PhD, Syed Asad Rahman, PhD, Subhash Hira, MD, MPH, Seyed E. Hasnain, PhD, Affiliations: JH-Institute of Molecular Medicine, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, India; ICMR National Institute of Pathology, Safdarjung Hospital Campus, New Delhi, India; Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India; BioInception Pvt. Ltd, Swift House Ground Floor, 18 Hoffmanns Way, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1GU, United Kingdom; Department of Global Health, University of Washington-Seattle, USA Dr Reddy’s Institute of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad Campus, Prof C.R. Rao Road, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, India.