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A new study from the University of Glasgow, which is yet to be published in a scientific journal, that looks at how antibodies from vaccines block omicron from entering cells. The researchers conclude, as many others have, that antibodies (the proteins that neutralise the virus) against previous variants or induced by vaccines are less effective against omicron. What’s interesting, though, is that the study finds that omicron may have changed the way it enters cells.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, is coated in a lipid bilayer (a thin membrane made of two layers) just like our cells. When the virus enters our cells, the bilayers fuse like oil droplets on the surface of water, termed “membrane fusion”.
Membrane fusion occurs after the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein has attached to the ACE2 receptor on the cell surface, but can happen in two different places (see diagram below). Membrane fusion can occur on the cell’s surface, or it can can occur after the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been engulfed in an endosome.
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a drug that accumulates in endosomes and decreases their acidity, which disrupts their function. Making endosomes less acidic reduces membrane fusion, thereby reducing SARS-CoV-2’s ability to enter cells. So HCQ could act as an antiviral.
To show that HCQ is effective against omicron, scientists need to infect cells with omicron in the presence and absence of HCQ and shows a significant reduction in infectivity. If this shows that HCQ is effective against omicron, it would be sensible to test HCQ in a clinical trial.