Czech and U.S. scientists produce highly effective antibodies against tick-borne-encephalitis

For several years now, the Czech Republic has had one of the highest incidence of tick-borne diseases in Europe, including tick-borne encephalitis. Now, a Czech-American team of scientists has come up with effective antibodies against the potentially fatal disease, which could work both as immediate prevention and a cure.

TBE is a mild to fatal viral infection which affects the central nervous system. Every year, doctors register around 500 cases of the disease in the Czech Republic and the figure has been slowly, but persistently increasing.

Despite the high incidence of TBE, only around a quarter of Czechs are vaccinated against the disease, which is significantly less than for instance in the neighbouring Austria, where the inoculation rate is around 80 percent.

So far, there is no available treatment of the disease and doctors can only treat its symptoms. While in the early stages of the disease, patients suffer from fever, headache, aching joints and muscles, in some cases, it can develop into life-threatening meningitis, says Professor Daniel Růžek:

“In many cases, the disease has a relatively severe course. In about a quarter of patients, who are infected with TBE, we even observe long-term or permanent health consequences.

“This is called post-encephalitic syndrome. These patients suffer from a number of issues, such as problems with concentration, tremors or memory disorders."

Daniel Růžek | Photo: University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice

Mr. Růžek is a member of a Czech-US team of scientists, including researchers from České Budějovice Biological Centre and the Brno Research Institute of Veterinary Medicine, which is currently working on a promising cure, based on antibodies from people who recovered from encephalitis.

The three-year research was initiated by the Rockefeller University in New York and the research team also includes last year's Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, Charles Rice.

In the initial phase of research, scientists contacted 140 patients from a hospital in České Budějovice, who had tick-borne encephalitis, and obtained their blood sample.

The patient’s blood samples were then sent to Rockefeller University, where researchers identified six so-called super-neutralizers or patients who have developed high-quality antibodies.

Scientists in České Budějovice subsequently drew half a litre of blood from each of these six patients and isolated B-lymphocytes, which are the cells responsible for production of antibodies, explains Professor Růžek:

"Using these cells, we obtained a series of so-called monoclonal antibodies, which were further tested. From this relatively broad series, we finally managed to get four antibodies, which were the strongest of all. These were subsequently used for other experiments and pre-clinical testing on mice.”

The research, which has just been completed, has prepared the basis for the possible production of a drug that could prevent the disease from developing or alleviate its course.

Researchers are now looking for investors and partners from the pharmaceutical industry to fund and conduct clinical trials in humans.