Global Collaboration Aids in the Fight Against COVID-19
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has not only affected the health of the population; it has changed the way that scientists and companies around the world are working. The urgent rush to find a treatment for COVID-19 has seen the scientific community collaborate like never before, with new alliances forming and great minds coming together to find solutions. The unprecedented global research effort has culminated in the first vaccines for COVID-19 receiving approval and being rolled out to the public. mRNA and protein-based vaccines are at the forefront of development, and we are proud to have played a part in helping scientists progress in this area.
Multiple Waters’ technologies have aided research efforts to stop the pandemic. The BioAccord LC-MS System has been key to supporting the quality of diagnostic kits, and also for analyzing the components of the mRNA and protein vaccines. In addition to the BioAccord System, the Cyclic ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IMS) platform and hydrogen-deuterium exchange with mass spectrometry (HDX-MS) have been crucial to learning more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, new druggable targets, and new vaccine candidates. Alongside analytical instrumentation, Waters has also provided scientists with essential columns, reagents, and unprecedented levels of collaborative exchange.
Waters’ COVID-19 innovation response team and global collaborations
In March 2020, we formed a COVID-19 innovation response team with the aim of helping researchers perform vital studies on the novel coronavirus and to facilitate important conversations. It was clear that collaboration and the pooling of expertise were vital for the speedy development of new COVID-19 vaccines. Investigating the possibility of repurposing existing treatments, antivirals, and diagnostics was also an important part of the ongoing global effort against COVID-19.
Another way that we sought to support the scientific community in their vital work was by releasing a series of scientific seminars explaining how researchers can use chromatography and mass spectrometry in their SARS-CoV-2 studies. We were delighted to see the global scientific community come together in a series of presentations and panel discussions we hosted covering the science behind COVID-19. The virtual seminars provided a platform for scientists to share stories on the analytical challenges overcome to help investigate potential therapies and vaccines.
Though scientists have had to adapt to the circumstances and make use of unusual support systems, incredible progress has been made in a short time. This has been exemplified by the successful development of multiple vaccines for COVID-19.
Aiding scientists in the development of RNA and protein-based vaccines
The characterization of the spike proteins present on COVID-19 virus particles has been an important focus throughout the pandemic. While the process is difficult, Waters methodology and equipment were already in place to characterize proteins, so the technology and workflows did not require much adaption to be applied to virology studies and vaccine analysis. In one case, the BioAccord System was used to obtain fingerprint-like maps of peptides and glycans from the recombinant SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, which represent an important class of vaccine candidates.
HDX-MS provides important answers to structural questions, while high-resolution LC-MS can be used to probe post-translational modifications such as phosphorylation, oxidation, and glycosylation. Cyclic IMS can be leveraged to look at glycosylation patterns of very similar peptides that elute closely together. Cyclic IMS is able to show details in glycan linkages that cannot be seen by other LC-MS techniques. Glycosylation is a prominent post-translational modification in viral envelope proteins observed in viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Consequently, profiling glycans with LC-MS is an important strategy to combat the variability of protein structures between vaccine batches. Our technologies have been deployed to investigate these glycans on the virus and, when present, on protein-based vaccine candidates.
One key way to access glycan data can be through releasing and profiling the glycans. For this, the GlycoWorks RapiFluor-MS N-Glycan kit has been successfully applied around the world, alongside glycopeptide analyses, to interrogate so-called “O-glycan structures.” The automation of this with Andrew Alliance robotics has allowed labs to be functional with fewer staff physically present, ultimately helping social distancing in work.
The development of mRNA vaccines has been a major focus in COVID-19 research and for scientists across the world. LC-MS can be applied to quantify the five-prime endcap modification of the mRNA molecule and analyze the length of the three-prime polyadenosine tail, which are important attributes of the mRNA that ensure it will be effectively used by the patient’s body upon vaccination.
Also, measuring data in a compliant manner when researching mRNA vaccines is essential for scientists, which is where the BioAccord LC-MS System has come in. Fortunately, the basic capabilities for the workflows were already coming to fruition at the time the pandemic took over the world. These analytical tools have proven to be very useful over the course of the pandemic as they have aided the speed of vaccine development.
Chromatography and mass spectrometry have also been used to assess the purity and quality of the raw materials for mRNA vaccine production, as well as the lipids used to create the encapsulating lipid nanoparticles.
Taken together, LC-MS has driven forward many aspects of vaccine development, contributing to the fastest-ever development of a vaccine.
Analyzing therapeutic antibodies in the fight against COVID-19
An area of COVID-19 research that has been key in the fight against the virus is the use of therapeutic antibodies. We already had well-established workflows for antibody analysis before the pandemic started, so we were able to swiftly advise scientists on any remaining analytical challenges while they quickly pivoted to isolating and producing neutralizing antibodies. This helped with early discovery and drug target research through to molecular characterization and the development of processes for manufacturing quality control.
The Cyclic IMS system can be used for therapeutic antibody analysis, in addition to the SmartMS-enabled BioAccord System. Mass spectrometry systems can facilitate in-depth characterization of molecules and can help define key critical quality attributes to monitor safety and efficacy, as well as improve manufacturing. At a time when speed is of the essence, robust systems are of great importance for scientists to allow the high-throughput analysis of monoclonal antibodies.
Facilitating hope for the future
Collaboration between scientific researchers has never been more important. The knowledge that has been pulled together from diverse scientific backgrounds has helped solve some of the burning questions about the COVID-19 pandemic as well as aid the development of new vaccines at unprecedented speeds.
The speed of implementation was key to COVID-19 vaccine research, which is where easy-to-use systems such as the BioAccord System came into play. The collaborations, workflows, experience, informatics, instrumentation, and consumables that Waters has been able to offer other scientific organizations have been crucial in the fight against COVID-19 and the race for a vaccine. As we continue through 2021, we will continue to work hard to empower researchers and scientists with the tools they need to progress their vital research and deliver efficacious and safe vaccines.