Dr. Ron Diskin of the Weizmann Institute's Structural Biology Department – an expert in deadly viruses, including Ebola and HIV – is concentrating his efforts on a two-pronged research project against the current coronavirus. His aim is to develop a "decoy" molecule that would allow healthy cells to evade the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and to identify an antibody that can bind precisely to the virus and destroy it.
In the first research project, based on Diskin's research on arenaviruses (animal-borne viruses that are able to cross to humans), a comprehensive screening is conducted to identify a decoy molecule with the desired properties that will allow it to activate an immunological response (an immunoadhesin) and avert the viruses' attempts to infect human host cells. The goal is to decipher the molecule's three-dimensional structure and to computationally design an immunoadhesin based on this data – forming the basis for a possible treatment.
The second avenue is based on Diskin's previous research on an immune response to a vaccine for the Ebola virus – which, like the coronavirus, is suspected to have originated in bats. Diskin elucidated the three-dimensional structure of how antibodies bind to the Ebola virus and discovered that two particular antibodies use different binding mechanisms than those known for other antibodies. Mapping these unique antibody binding sites led the research team to discover that the locations of these binding sites are consistent with what is found in recovered Ebola patients. The process of deciphering the antibody binding mechanism and identifying the most effective antibody is now being implemented in the study of coronavirus. To that end, he is collaborating with several other research groups in the attempt to isolate antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients. Understanding the binding mechanism may provide the researchers with new insights for developing a vaccine or antibody treatment for coronavirus.
Dr. Ron Diskin's research is supported by the Moross Integrated Cancer Center; the Dr. Barry Sherman Institute for Medicinal Chemistry; the Jeanne and Joseph Nissim Center for Life Sciences Research; the Estate of Emile Mimran; Mr. and Mrs. Donald Rivin; and the Ernst I Ascher Foundation