The vaccine was noted to prevent both infection and lung damage in the mice.(AP representative image)
The vaccine was noted to prevent both infection and lung damage in the mice.(AP representative image)

Scientists developing universal vaccine to fight Covid-19 variants, human trials next year

  • The vaccine effectively generated neutralising antibodies, when injected in mice, against the multiple spike protein, which coronaviruses use to latch onto healthy cells, including one associated with B.1.351 that was first identified in South Africa.
By hindustantimes.com | Written by Deepali Sharma | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUN 24, 2021 08:02 AM IST

Scientists at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health have come out with news of major relief amid the rising concerns of Delta and Delta Plus variants of coronavirus. They have developed a hybrid vaccine, being dubbed as 'super vaccine', which is expected to prevent infections from future coronavirus variants.

The vaccine effectively generated neutralising antibodies, when injected in mice, against the multiple spike protein, which coronaviruses use to latch onto healthy cells, including one associated with B.1.351 that was first identified in South Africa, the scientists said.

Also read| More Delta Plus cases reported in India: How this variant is rapidly spreading

The researchers further said that the universal vaccine protected mice not just against Covid-19, but also other group 2B coronaviruses. It even triggered the immune system to fight off a dangerous Covid variant. They designed the vaccine to provide protection against the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and a group of coronaviruses that have the potential to transmit from animals to humans.

"Our findings look bright for the future because they suggest we can design more universal coronavirus vaccines to proactively guard against viruses we know are at risk for emerging in humans,” said PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Gillings School. “With this strategy, perhaps we can prevent a SARS-CoV-3," he added.

Within the extensive family of different coronaviruses, Sarbecoviruses are also called "group 2B". Sarbecoviruses are a priority for the virologists after two coronaviruses outbreak--SARS and Covid-19--in the past two decades.

"The vaccine has the potential to prevent outbreaks when used as a new variant is detected,” said Ralph Baric, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Gillings School and professor of immunology and microbiology at the UNC School of Medicine.

Additional testing could also lead to human trials next year. The paper includes data from mice infected with SARS-CoV and related coronaviruses. The vaccine was noted to prevent both infection and lung damage in the mice.

The findings of the study were published in the journal 'Science' by lead authors Martinez and a Hanna H. Gray Fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute along with Baric.

The lead authors worked with a team of scientists from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Also read: Delta sparks fears and fresh curbs

According to Baric, the researchers also pivoted to look at a second-generation vaccine after testing the effectiveness of the first generation of Covid-19 vaccines.

The approach to the development of the vaccine began similar to the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccine ie with the mRNA. However, instead of including the mRNA code for only one virus, the researchers welded together mRNA from multiple coronaviruses.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health and the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, with funding from the North Carolina General Assembly.

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