Emergence and expansion of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.526 after identification in New York


SARS-CoV-2 infections have surged across the globe in recent months, concomitant with considerable viral evolution. Extensive mutations in the spike protein may threaten the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. Two signature spike mutations of concern are E484K, which has a crucial role in the loss of neutralizing activity of antibodies, and N501Y, a driver of rapid worldwide transmission of the B.1.1.7 lineage. Here we report the emergence of the variant lineage B.1.526 (also known as the Iota variant), which contains E484K, and its rise to dominance in New York City in early 2021. This variant is partially or completely resistant to two therapeutic monoclonal antibodies that are in clinical use and is less susceptible to neutralization by plasma from individuals who had recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection or serum from vaccinated individuals, posing a modest antigenic challenge. The presence of the B.1.526 lineage has now been reported in all 50 states in the United States and in many other countries. B.1.526 rapidly replaced earlier lineages in New York, with an estimated transmission advantage of 35%. These transmission dynamics, together with the relative antibody resistance of its E484K sub-lineage, are likely to have contributed to the sharp rise and rapid spread of B.1.526. Although SARS-CoV-2 B.1.526 initially outpaced B.1.1.7 in the region, its growth subsequently slowed concurrently with the rise of B.1.1.7 and ensuing variants.