Can we create a universal vaccine for future coronaviruses? These Canadian scientists want
TORONTO – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers in Saskatoon are bracing for another fight.
They are part of a global effort to create what could be a holy grail: a universal vaccine that may be able to work against all future viruses linked to coronaviruses.
It’s like fire insurance, Volker Gerdts, director and chief executive officer of the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, told CTV News.
“I hope you never use it. Hope you wasted this money, ”Gerdts said. “But when you have a fire, when a new disease breaks out, you’re ready, and that’s the concept for it.”
Gerdts’ team is working to find a universal vaccine in Saskatoon to prepare for the next coronavirus pandemic.
“What we’re really trying to do is be prepared to almost predict what the next pathogen or disease will look like, and have a vaccine ready the day the disease appears,” said Gerdts.
This is something that many research teams around the world have looked into. An article published in The New Scientist in February described the quest, calling it a “tall order.”
“We would like to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine for all coronaviruses,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in an online meeting hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences.
When COVID-19 hit, the pandemic sparked an intense race to develop the first vaccines against this specific coronavirus.
Hundreds of companies have worked on potential products and many applicants have been approved, some using new technology and all using different formulas and strategies. Now, instead of the virus being treated with a single vaccine across the world, different countries have made agreements to ship certain brands in varying amounts. It’s a patchwork global response, which is not ideal in times of crisis.
“The development of several highly effective COVID vaccines over the past year is possibly one of the greatest scientific achievements that we have certainly had in the past 100 years,” said Theodore Schenkelberg, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Human Vaccines Project, told CTV News.
“But even with these achievements. Turns out it was too late and too little, we are approaching about three million deaths and we have shut down the world’s economies and millions more have fallen ill and infected.
He pointed out that we could prevent scientists from having to fight over multiple vaccines in the future if we already had a universal vaccine that would help against a future coronavirus.
Coronaviruses have been the source of several epidemics in known history: SARS, MERS and now COVID-19. It’s no exaggeration to imagine that the next iteration could be just as or more dangerous.
“There are hundreds of these types of viruses that infect animals. And probably in the decades to come, we’ll see another coronavirus outbreak, ”Schenkelberg said. “And we want to be in a much better position than where we are today.
“The idea of a universal vaccine is a vaccine that would work against all of these different types of viruses within the coronavirus family. He would be able to fight them or neutralize them all.
A universal influenza vaccine has been in the works for decades, but has not yet been approved. Last fall, a candidate’s phase three trials ended in disappointment when they were not effective, despite years of research.
A universal coronavirus vaccine would be even more difficult to develop and approve.
Scientists in Gerdts’ lab hope to be successful by targeting stable parts of the virus that don’t mutate, to ensure that a vaccine would work against the virus, no matter how much it has changed.
“What we’re doing is looking at the regions and the surface of the virus and even inside the virus to see if there are any structural regions of the virus that are conserved among the many members of this family,” Gerdts explained.
One of the other research projects on this topic is being developed by the US Army Medical Research and Development Command, which began phase one clinical trials in April on a coronavirus vaccine that could target several variants of SARS-CoV- 2 and other coronaviruses as well.
The study is recruiting 72 adults between the ages of 18 and 55, who will be randomly selected to receive the vaccine candidate or a placebo. It is a nanoparticle vaccine, called a ferritin-tip nanoparticle, and preclinical trials have indicated that it may induce an antibody response that would work against SARS-CoV-2 as well as three of the main variants.
But while this research is promising, another hurdle will be convincing governments not to abandon funding for this research once the current crisis is over.
“You have to invest money in the development of these vaccines and get them to a stage where, at least in humans, you have been shown to be safe,” Gerdts said.
Just doing a phase one vaccine study can cost millions of dollars – and it’s hard to convince companies and governments to invest that kind of money when there isn’t immediate use. .
But if it could be developed, it could help us avoid another coronavirus pandemic altogether.
“If we don’t have effective vaccines, we won’t be able to function as a society, our health systems will not function well, our economies will not function well,” said Schenkelberg.
Human trials of other prototypes of universal vaccines from Massachusetts, the United States and the United Kingdom are expected to begin later this year – the race to cure the next pandemic is already underway.