Unlike HIV, Coronavirus Has A Weak Shield. Why Does That Matter?

May 4, 2020 / JV Chamary, Contributor

The race to develop vaccines and drugs against SARS-CoV-2 is centred on the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to invade human cells. But like many proteins built from the materials a virus steals from its host, the spike isn’t simply a protein but a ‘glycoprotein’ covered in carbohydrate sugars.

Sugars or ‘glycans’ play many roles in nature, such as helping proteins fold into stable structures. “The sugars are really central in orchestrating that folding mechanism,” says Professor Max Crispin, a glycobiologist at the University of Southampton. And in the case of viruses like SARS-CoV-2, those sugars also form camouflage. “This spike is like the wolf in sheep’s clothing because the carbohydrates that cover it are human-derived.”

Crispin’s team recently mapped the sugars attached to SARS-CoV-2’s spike, as reported in a new study published in the journal Science. This research identified the location of 22 ‘glycosylation sites’ where glycans are attached to the spike (66 in total as the protein consists of three identical parts) and the types of sugar at each site. This work involved using mass spectrometry, chopping-up the protein and weighing the fragments in a vacuum to determine the chemical composition of each piece. The details of the glycans were then mapped onto the structure of the spike protein.


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Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Surgio Health as well as COO at Ortho Spine Partners. Chris has close to 20 years of healthcare management experience with an infinity to improve healthcare delivery through the development and implementation of innovative solutions that solve real problems that result in improved efficiencies, reduction of unnecessary financial & clinical variation, and help drive better patient outcomes. Previously, Chris was assistant vice president and business unit leader for HPG/HCA. He has presented at numerous healthcare forums on topics that include disruptive innovation, physician engagement, shifting reimbursement models, cost per clinical episode and the future of supply chain delivery.

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