Duke researchers developing ‘pan-coronavirus’ vaccine to prevent future pandemics

CHARLOTTE — Researchers are motivated to create a pan-coronavirus vaccine, which would prevent future pandemics.

“What we are really worried about is the next coronavirus that comes from some type of animal host that jumps over to humans,” said Dr. Kevin Saunders, director of research at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

Prior to COVID-19, Saunders spent most of the time focused on HIV.

“So the way that we profiled the immune response for people who got infected with SARS COV2, we used the same techniques we used for HIV,” he said.

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To attach to cells, there’s a protein on the surface of the coronavirus called the spike protein.

For the new vaccine, researchers used a part of that protein to trigger an immune response, which they believe is more potent, and broaden its effectiveness.

By contrast, the current vaccines in use now trigger a genetic response, which then causes the cells in the body to make a version of the protein.

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“All of the components have been in humans before, and this is an old-fashion vaccine in the sense that it’s not a genetic vaccine like the mRNA vaccines that are currently being used for COVID first-generation vaccines,” said Dr. Barton F. Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “It’s a protein. Like many of the vaccines for other diseases.”

So far, the pan-coronavirus vaccine has been tested on animals.

In monkeys, the vaccine blocked infection by 100%.

“What we saw here was that not only do you suppress it in the lungs where you might spread it by coughing on someone, but you could also suppress the virus in the nose where are you might spread it by blowing your nose or sneezing, or something to that effect,” Saunders said.

“Our vaccine, we believe, is targeting a region that’s present on all of the mutants that have come up thus far and also present on animal viruses that we’re worried about that might jump to humans,” Haynes said.

Researchers feel confident this is ready for human trials.

The challenge is securing millions of dollars in funding to manufacture it.

Once they do that, it could take between 12 to 18 months in the manufacturing process.

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