Vaccine breakthrough could finally bring COVID to its knees

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/Daily Beast/Getty

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/Daily Beast/Getty

When New COVID variants and subvariants Evolving faster and faster, each whittles down the effectiveness of its predecessor. vaccinationsearch is underway for a new class of vaccines that would work equally well against current and future forms of the novel coronavirus.

Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland think they may have found a new approach to vaccine design.As a bonus, it might also work Other coronavirusesit is not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID.

The NIH team published its findings peer-reviewed research appeared in magazines Cell hosts and microorganisms Early this month.

The key to the NIH’s potential vaccine design is a portion of the virus called a “spine helix.” This is the coiled structure within the spike protein, part of the virus, that helps the virus to grab onto and infect cells.

Many current vaccines target the spike protein. However, none of them specifically target the spinal helix. Still, there are good reasons to focus on that part of the pathogen.Many regions of the spike protein tend to change significantly as the virus mutates, whereas the spine helix won’t.

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This makes scientists “hopefully that antibodies targeting this region will be more durable and broadly effective,” Joshua Tan, lead scientist on the NIH team, told The Daily Beast. rice field.

For example, a vaccine that targets and “binds” to the receptor-binding domain region of the spike protein may lose efficacy if the virus evolves within that region. The great thing about spine helices from an immunological point of view is that they don’t least it hasn’t mutated yetthree years after the COVID pandemic.

Therefore, a vaccine that binds to the spine-helix of SARS-CoV-2 should be able to survive for a long time. It should also work for all other coronaviruses, including spine helices, and dozens of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1 and MERS, which have already broken out of animal populations and caused outbreaks in humans. I have.

To test the hypothesis, NIH researchers extracted antibodies from 19 recovering COVID patients and tested them on samples of five different coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1 and MERS. tested. Of the 55 different antibodies, the most targeted the parts of the virus that mutate the most. Only 11 were targeting the spine helix.

But the 11 that followed the spine helix performed better on average with four coronaviruses (a fifth virus, HCoV-NL63, ignored all antibodies). The spine-helix antibody COV89-22 was isolated and also tested in hamsters infected with the latest subvariant of the Omicron variant of COVID. “Hamsters treated with COV89-22 showed reduced pathology scores,” the team found.

The results are promising. “These findings identify a class of broadly neutralizing … antibodies. [coronaviruses] By targeting the stem helix,” the researchers wrote.

Don’t break the champagne yet. “Although these data are useful for vaccine design, no vaccination experiments were performed in this study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn regarding the efficacy of stem-helix-based vaccines,” the NIH team cautioned. did.

Testing some antibodies in hamsters is one thing. Developing, testing and getting approval for an entirely new class of vaccines is another story. James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told the Daily Beast:

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And the spine-helix antibody is Wide Although effective, it is unclear how they stack up against more specific antibodies. They are not as effective against a particular virus as jabs that are tailored specifically for that virus. talked about spine-helix antibodies.

There is still a lot of work to do before the Spine Helix Vaccine becomes available in street pharmacies. And there are many things that can derail that work. Additional research may contradict the NIH team’s results. New vaccine designs may not work as well in humans as they do in hamsters.

New jabs may be unsafe, impractical to produce, or too expensive for widespread distribution. Burton Haynes, an immunologist at Duke University, told the Daily Beast that he considered designing a spine-helix vaccine last year and concluded that it would be too costly to justify a large investment. The main problem is that the spine-helix antibody has low potency and is “difficult to induce” from parental B cells, according to the authors.

The more the pharmaceutical industry has to work to produce vaccines, and the more vaccines have to be packed into a single dose to compensate for the loss of potency, the more cost-effectiveness there is for mass production of vaccines. lower.

Maybe the spine helix jab is in our future. In any case, it is encouraging that scientists are making gradual progress. A more universal coronavirus vaccineOne that could work for many years against a variety of related viruses.

COVID is not going anywhere. And with each mutation, there is a risk that it will go unrecognized by current vaccines. What we need is a vaccine that doesn’t mutate.

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