A reminder: Monoclonal Antibodies are also tested on aborted fetal tissue
How cells taken from decades-old fetal tissue are used in Covid-19 drug research
A very old line of cells is helping scientists determine just how well certain coronavirus treatments work.

NBC News [adapted] | Oct. 9, 2020

An experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail made by Regeneron ... was tested on cells derived, long ago, from fetal tissue ...

In a statement to NBC News, Regeneron spokesperson Alexandra Bowie said that the company used cells from a cell line called HEK293T. These cells date back to the 1970s and were originally taken from kidney cells in donated fetal tissue. Since then, the cells have become commonplace in research labs, thanks in part to the fact that they can replicate indefinitely, ensuring they never run out. Because of this, the cells are considered “immortalized.”

“HEK293T wasn’t used in any other way, and fetal tissue was not used in this research,” Bowie said. “We did not use human stem cells or human embryonic stem cells in the development of” the monoclonal antibody cocktail.

HEK293T cells have unique properties that make them very helpful in scientific research. Namely, the cells can be trained to produce proteins like little factories, Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem cell program at University of California, San Francisco, said.

That’s beneficial to scientists studying Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, said Kriegstein, who is not involved with Regeneron’s research, because the cells can be taught to produce the virus’s so-called spike protein. That protein is unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, making it an excellent target for drugs and vaccines.

Indeed, Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody drug works by binding to the virus’s spike protein. Early in the drug development process, scientists used HEK293T trained to produce the protein to test whether the drug would, in fact, bind to it, Bowie said.

“The antibodies themselves weren't made of any of these fetal cells,” Kriegstein noted. “But it was really critical to use these cells to test how effective their approach really was.”
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