Scientists are developing a universal COVID-19 vaccine that may be ultimately effective against all COVID-19 variants. The vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, also has the potential to prevent future coronavirus pandemics.
The scientists leading the study managed to assemble a vaccine that was capable of protecting mice from SARS-CoV-2. The hybrid vaccine could also offer protection against other coronaviruses that can jump from animals to humans.
"Our findings look bright for the future because they suggest we can design more universal pan-coronavirus vaccines to proactively guard against viruses we know are at risk for emerging in humans," David R. Martinez, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the university said. "With this strategy, perhaps we can prevent a SARS-CoV-3."
Coronavirus is not just a single virus but a large family of viruses. It has been responsible for several deadly outbreaks of viral diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and COVID-19. In particular, the sarbecovirus subgenus of coronaviruses is potentially dangerous to humans as they have the ability to jump from animals to humans.
The researchers started with an mRNA based vaccine, much like Pfizer and Moderna’s, but instead chose to incorporate multiple coronavirus mRNA encoding. The presence of this hybrid mRNA allowed mice who were administered the vaccine to develop effective antibodies against multiple variants of SARS CoV-2. The effectiveness even extended to the B.1.351 lineage of COVID-19, first found in South Africa, that was known to evade immune responses due to a key mutation in its spike protein.
"The vaccine has the potential to prevent outbreaks when used as a variant is detected," said Ralph Baric, lead author, an epidemiologist and professor of immunology and microbiology at the UNC.
Further studies are underway, and the vaccine could be on track for human trials as early as next year.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST