In vitro discovery and optimization of a human monoclonal antibody that neutralizes neurotoxicity and lethality of cobra snake venom
The monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia) is one of the most feared snakes in Southeast Asia. It is a highly dangerous species with a potent venom deriving its toxicity predominantly from abundant long-chain α-neurotoxins. The only specific treatment for snakebite envenoming is antivenom, which is based on animal-derived polyclonal antibodies. Despite the lifesaving importance of these medicines over the past 120 years, and their ongoing role in combating snakebite disease, major limitations in safety, supply consistency, and efficacy creates a need for a new generation of improved treatments based on modern biotechnological techniques. Here, we describe the initial discovery and subsequent optimization of a recombinant human monoclonal immunoglobin G (IgG) antibody against α-cobratoxin using phage display technology. Affinity maturation of the parental antibody by light chain-shuffling resulted in an 8-fold increase in affinity, translating to a significant increase in in vitro neutralization potency and in vivo efficacy. While the parental antibody prolonged survival of mice challenged with purified α-cobratoxin, the optimized antibody prevented lethality when incubated with N. kaouthia whole venom prior to intravenous injection. This study is the first to demonstrate neutralization of whole snake venom by a single recombinant monoclonal antibody. Importantly, this suggests that for venoms whose toxicity relies on a single predominant toxin group, such as that of N. kaouthia, as little as one monoclonal antibody may be sufficient to prevent lethality, thus providing a tantalizing prospect of bringing recombinant antivenoms based on human monoclonal or oligoclonal antibodies to the clinic.