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New mRNA super covid vaccine can help prevent SARS-COV-3

It seems better than Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines

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One against many: Researchers have tested an mRNA vaccine on mice that is supposed to protect against several different coronaviruses – including not only SARS-CoV-2 and its mutations, but also relatives that could possibly cause pandemics in the future. 

The new vaccine contains blueprints for chimeric spike proteins that combine surface features of different coronaviruses. In mice, it ensured a robust antibody response and prevented infections.

Current vaccines against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 target the spike protein of the virus, a specific surface structure that allows the virus to enter the cells, but also serves as an identifier for the immune system. 

Since the spike proteins change due to mutations, there are concerns that the previous vaccinations against new variants could be less effective.

Chimeric Spike Proteins

A team led by David Martinez from the University of North Carolina has now tested a vaccine on mice that is supposed to protect not only against SARS-CoV-2 and its mutations but also against other coronaviruses that are considered risk candidates for future pandemics.

The researchers basically used the same principle on which the currently approved mRNA vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna are based: They provide the body with the genetic blueprint for the spike protein in the form of messenger RNA and our cells then produce the protein so that the immune system can produce appropriate antibodies.

Instead of just providing the blueprint for one type of spike protein, Martinez and his colleagues used chimeric spike proteins – a combination of components of the spike proteins from various coronaviruses. 

One of these chimeras, for example, combined features of the spike proteins from SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the current Covid-19 pandemic, but also from SARS-CoV, which triggered the first SARS pandemic in 2003, and a bat coronavirus that could possibly make the leap to humans in the future.

Broad effectiveness

To test the effectiveness of this approach, the researchers vaccinated a group of mice with a combination of four different chimeric blueprints. Another group received an mRNA vaccine that only contained the blueprint for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and a control group was vaccinated against noroviruses instead.

The result: the mice that had received the new combination vaccine produced functional antibodies against both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, as well as against the bat variants. If they were exposed to the virus after immunization was complete, they did not become ill and no damage whatsoever was found in their lung tissue. These mice were also protected against mutations of SARS-CoV-2 such as the South African variant.

In contrast, mice that had only been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 were protected from this virus, but could still contract other coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV. In addition, there were individual breakthrough infections with the South African variant. As expected, animals from the control group were susceptible to all coronavirus variants.

Proactive protection

“The vaccine has the potential to prevent outbreaks when used as a new variant is detected,” says Martinez ‘colleague Ralph Baric. 

The current study demonstrates the fundamental feasibility of an approach based on chimeric spike proteins. If further tests are similarly promising, clinical studies on humans would already be conceivable in the coming year.

Unlike a real “universal vaccine”, which targets structures that are common to all viruses of the genus, the vaccine currently being tested is still based on specific structures of individual viruses. 

However, the combination allows greater flexibility and broader coverage against different variants – including those that may not become a problem until the future.

“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,” says Martinez. 

“With this strategy, perhaps we can prevent a SARS-CoV-3.”

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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