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Scientists Developing Vaccine Against Present and Future COVID Viruses
  • Posted May 6, 2024

Scientists Developing Vaccine Against Present and Future COVID Viruses

Scientists are busy working on a vaccine that might fight strains of the COVID virus SARS-CoV-2 that haven't even emerged yet.

The effort from a British team at the University of Cambridge is already showing promise in mouse studies. Of course, mouse studies don't always pan out in humans, but study first author Rory Hills is optimistic.

“Our focus is to create a vaccine that will protect us against the next coronavirus pandemic, and have it ready before the pandemic has even started,” Hills, a graduate pharmacology researcher at Cambridge, said in a university news release.

Hills' team relied on a relatively new approach to vaccine development, called "proactive vaccinology"-- trying to design a shot that shields against viral strains that aren't here yet, but are likely to emerge.

“We don't have to wait for new coronaviruses to emerge. We know enough about coronaviruses, and different immune responses to them, that we can get going with building protective vaccines against unknown coronaviruses now,” explained study senior author and Cambridge professor of pharmacology Mark Howarth.

Nanotechnology is also a key element in the research. Vaccines work by sensitizing the human immune system to spot and attack one key "antigen" on a particular germ's surface. Reliance on a single antigen can become a weakeness, however, if new viral strains emerge.

In the new research, the Cambridge group employed a nanoparticle they dubbed a Quartet Nanocage, "a ball of proteins held together by incredibly strong interactions," according to the news release.

They then engineered a variety of different viral antigens that lodged themselves within this nanocage.

In theory, that means that a vaccine containing this structure could sensitize immune cells to target a myriad of coronavirus types.

Mouse studies suggest that the strategy is successful. 

For example, even though the vaccine didn't contain the SARS-CoV-1 coronavirus (the culprit behind the 2003 SARS outbreak), mice who received it were protected from that virus, the team said. 

The nanocage vaccine is relatively simple, they added, and that could be boon in getting it into human clinical trials.

“We've created a vaccine that provides protection against a broad range of different coronaviruses – including ones we don't even know about yet," Hills said. 

Howarth noted in the news release that the new efforts build on past successes.

“Scientists did a great job in quickly producing an extremely effective COVID vaccine during the last pandemic, but the world still had a massive crisis with a huge number of deaths," he said. "We need to work out how we can do even better than that in the future, and a powerful component of that is starting to build the vaccines in advance.”

The findings were published May 6 in Nature Nanotechnology.

More information

Find out more about how COVID vaccines work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: University of Cambridge, news release, May 6, 2024

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