Enhanced fitness of SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern B.1.1.7, but not B.1.351, in animal models : [Preprint]

Emerging variants of concern (VOCs) drive the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. We assessed VOC B.1.1.7, now prevalent in several countries, and VOC B.1.351, representing the greatest threat to populations with immunity to the early SARS-CoV-2 progenitors. B.1.1.7 showed a clear fitness advantage over the progenitor variant (wt-S614G) in ferrets and two mouse models, where the substitutions in the spike glycoprotein were major drivers for fitness advantage. In the superspreader hamster model, B.1.1.7 and wt-S614G had comparable fitness, whereas B.1.351 was outcompeted. The VOCs had similar replication kinetics as compared to wt-S614G in human airway epithelial cultures. Our study highlights the importance of using multiple models for complete fitness characterization of VOCs and demonstrates adaptation of B.1.1.7 towards increased upper respiratory tract replication and enhanced transmission in vivo.

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