Defending Tomorrow: Vaccine Development Against COVID Variants

Vaccine Development Against COVID Variants
Vaccine Development Against COVID Variants. Credit | Shutterstock

United States: Researchers are hard at work on a vaccine that may be able to combat strains of the COVID virus known as SARS-CoV-2 that haven’t even surfaced yet.

Advancing Research

In mouse experiments, the work of a British team at the University of Cambridge is already showing potential enough to make it effective in a best possible way. Although mice studies don’t often translate to people, Rory Hills, the study’s first author, remains upbeat.

“Our goal is to develop a vaccine that will shield humanity from the next coronavirus pandemic and have it available before the pandemic even begins,” Hills, a Cambridge graduate pharmacology researcher, stated in a press statement from the institution.


Proactive Strategy

The “proactive vaccinology” strategy, which is relatively new to vaccine production, was used by Hills’ team in an attempt to create a shot that protects against virus strains that aren’t yet known but are expected to appear.

It is not necessary to wait for brand-new coronaviruses to appear. According to research senior author and Cambridge professor of pharmacology Mark Howarth, “we know enough about coronaviruses and different immune responses to them that we can get going with building protective vaccines against unknown coronaviruses now.”


Nanotech Breakthrough

Another important component of the research is nanotechnology. Vaccines function by training the human immune system to recognize and target a single, important “antigen” on the surface of a specific pathogen. However, if new virus strains appear, reliance on a single antigen may become a weakness.

Simple Formulation

According to the press release, the Cambridge team used a nanoparticle in the current study that they named a Quartet Nanocage—”a ball of proteins held together by incredibly strong interactions.”
Subsequently, they created a range of distinct viral antigens that managed to embed themselves in this nanocage. This suggests that a vaccination with this structure would, in principle, make immune cells more sensitive to a wide range of coronavirus strains.

Studies on mice indicate that the tactic works.
For instance, the researchers reported that mice immunized with the vaccine were protected against the SARS-CoV-1 coronavirus, which was the cause of the 2003 SARS outbreak, despite the vaccine’s lack of that virus.
They also mentioned that the vaccine made of nanocages is quite simple, which may help get it into human clinical trials.