Engineered virus offers potential for effective vaccine against COVID-19

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The researchers, headed by Paul McCray, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the UI Carver College of Medicine, and Biao He, PhD, at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, have now used this vaccine design as the basis for a candidate vaccine that expresses the SARS-Co-2 spike protein.

The antiviral treatment, EIDD-2801, was tested in mice infected with both MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

SANBI's Peter van Heusden explains what's useful about this information. The fact that all the mice immunised with the modified PIV5 virus survived MERS virus infection gives hope for a making vaccine against COVID-19.

"We need to know which bits of the virus are stable and which bits are changing all the time because the vaccine must find the bit that's going to stay the same and target that".

As of April 3, the novel coronavirus had infected over 1 million people with COVID-19 and caused more than 58,000 deaths in a worldwide pandemic.

The team tested the MERS vaccine candidate in mice engineered to be susceptible to the MERS coronavirus.

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MERS is deadlier and is fatal in about one third of known cases, but there have been only 2,494 cases since 2012, when the virus first emerged, the researchers said. However, while there have been 2,494 WHO-reported MERS cases and 858 deaths since 2012, when the virus first emerged, there have been over 1.25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide since it first emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and nearly 70,000 people have died from COVID-19. Now, like colleagues around the world, McCray and He have both focused their research efforts on SARS-CoV-2, taking a similar tack to working with mouse models of infection and testing vaccines.

In the new paper, the researchers suggest that the approach they took for a MERS virus vaccine may also work against SARS-CoV-2. The drug shows promise in reducing lung injury, has finished testing in mice, and will quickly move to human clinical trials.

The researchers note several factors that make PIV5 expressing a coronavirus spike protein an appealing platform for vaccine development against emerging coronaviruses. In addition to activity against coronaviruses, EIDD-2801, in laboratory studies, has demonstrated activity against seasonal and bird influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, chikungunya virus, Ebola virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus.

"With three novel human coronaviruses emerging in the past 20 years, it is likely that we will continue to see more", first author Timothy Sheahan said in a statement.

Lab tests showed that a single dose of the vaccine, given intranasally, effectively caused infected cells to produce the S protein, which in turn triggered immune responses against the protein in the animal host.

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