Sheward DJ, Kim C, Ehling RA, Pankow A, Castro Dopico X, Dyrdak R, Martin DP, Reddy ST, Dillner J, Karlsson Hedestam GB, Albert J, Murrell B
Lancet Infect Dis 22 (6) 813-820 [2022-06-00; online 2022-03-17]
The SARS-CoV-2 omicron (B.1.1.529) variant, which was first identified in November, 2021, spread rapidly in many countries, with a spike protein highly diverged from previously known variants, and raised concerns that this variant might evade neutralising antibody responses. We therefore aimed to characterise the sensitivity of the omicron variant to neutralisation. For this cross-sectional study, we cloned the sequence encoding the omicron spike protein from a diagnostic sample to establish an omicron pseudotyped virus neutralisation assay. We quantified the neutralising antibody ID50 (the reciprocal dilution that produces 50% inhibition) against the omicron spike protein, and the fold-change in ID50 relative to the spike of wild-type SARS-CoV-2 (ie, the pandemic founder variant), for one convalescent reference plasma pool (WHO International Standard for anti-SARS-CoV-2 immunoglobulin [20/136]), three reference serum pools from vaccinated individuals, and two cohorts from Stockholm, Sweden: one comprising previously infected hospital workers (17 sampled in November, 2021, after vaccine rollout and nine in June or July, 2020, before vaccination) and one comprising serum from 40 randomly sampled blood donors donated during week 48 (Nov 29-Dec 5) of 2021. Furthermore, we assessed the neutralisation of omicron by five clinically relevant monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Neutralising antibody responses in reference sample pools sampled shortly after infection or vaccination were substantially less potent against the omicron variant than against wild-type SARS-CoV-2 (seven-fold to 42-fold reduction in ID50 titres). Similarly, for sera obtained before vaccination in 2020 from a cohort of convalescent hospital workers, neutralisation of the omicron variant was low to undetectable (all ID50 titres <20). However, in serum samples obtained in 2021 from two cohorts in Stockholm, substantial cross-neutralisation of the omicron variant was observed. Sera from 17 hospital workers after infection and subsequent vaccination had a reduction in average potency of only five-fold relative to wild-type SARS-CoV-2 (geometric mean ID50 titre 495 vs 105), and two donors had no reduction in potency. A similar pattern was observed in randomly sampled blood donors (n=40), who had an eight-fold reduction in average potency against the omicron variant compared with wild-type SARS-CoV-2 (geometric mean ID50 titre 369 vs 45). We found that the omicron variant was resistant to neutralisation (50% inhibitory concentration [IC50] >10 μg/mL) by mAbs casirivimab (REGN-10933), imdevimab (REGN-10987), etesevimab (Ly-CoV016), and bamlanivimab (Ly-CoV555), which form part of antibody combinations used in the clinic to treat COVID-19. However, S309, the parent of sotrovimab, retained most of its activity, with only an approximately two-fold reduction in potency against the omicron variant compared with ancestral D614G SARS-CoV-2 (IC50 0·1-0·2 μg/mL). These data highlight the extensive, but incomplete, evasion of neutralising antibody responses by the omicron variant, and suggest that boosting with licensed vaccines might be sufficient to raise neutralising antibody titres to protective levels. European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, SciLifeLab, and the Erling-Persson Foundation.