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This article is the author's final published version in Communications Biology, Volume 6, 2023, Article number 513.

The published version is available at Copyright © The Author(s) 2023.


SARS-CoV-2, especially B.1.1.529/omicron and its sublineages, continues to mutate to evade monoclonal antibodies and antibodies elicited by vaccination. Affinity-enhanced soluble ACE2 (sACE2) is an alternative strategy that works by binding the SARS-CoV-2 S protein, acting as a 'decoy' to block the interaction between the S and human ACE2. Using a computational design strategy, we designed an affinity-enhanced ACE2 decoy, FLIF, that exhibited tight binding to SARS-CoV-2 delta and omicron variants. Our computationally calculated absolute binding free energies (ABFE) between sACE2:SARS-CoV-2 S proteins and their variants showed excellent agreement to binding experiments. FLIF displayed robust therapeutic utility against a broad range of SARS-CoV-2 variants and sarbecoviruses, and neutralized omicron BA.5 in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, we directly compared the in vivo therapeutic efficacy of wild-type ACE2 (non-affinity enhanced ACE2) against FLIF. A few wild-type sACE2 decoys have shown to be effective against early circulating variants such as Wuhan in vivo. Our data suggest that moving forward, affinity-enhanced ACE2 decoys like FLIF may be required to combat evolving SARS-CoV-2 variants. The approach described herein emphasizes how computational methods have become sufficiently accurate for the design of therapeutics against viral protein targets. Affinity-enhanced ACE2 decoys remain highly effective at neutralizing omicron subvariants.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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Supplementary Materials

Reporting Summary.pdf (2771 kB)