New vaccine protects against at least 8 SARS-like viruses, including COVID-19 variants

The drug will now have to undergo a Phase 1 clinical trial in humans. — Researchers say they have developed a new type of vaccine that provides protection against at least eight SARS-like viruses, including the COVID-19 variants.

>> Read more trending news

According to the researchers at the California Institute of Technology, the new vaccine, tested on mice and monkeys so far, works by introducing pieces of the spike proteins from SARS-CoV-2 and seven other SARS-like betacoronaviruses to the immune system. The pieces of spike protein are attached to a protein structure that — when presented to the immune system — will induce the production of antibodies to fight the viruses.

“SARS-CoV-2 has proven itself capable of making new variants that could prolong the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Caltech’s Pamela Bjorkman, the David Baltimore professor of biology and bioengineering.

“In addition, the fact that three betacoronaviruses — SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 — have spilled over into humans from animal hosts in the last 20 years illustrates the need for making broadly protective vaccines,” added Bjorkman, who is also a Merkin Institute professor and executive officer for biology and biological engineering.

According to researchers, the mosaic nanoparticle deliberately left out SARS-CoV, the virus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome. Researchers designed the vaccine so that animals vaccinated with the mosaic nanoparticle, then exposed to SARS-CoV, would mount an immune response.

Tests proved successful as vaccinated mice and monkeys had little to no detectable virus in their systems despite attempts to infect them with either SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-2, the researchers said.

“We’re very excited about that,” Bjorkman said.

Animals injected with the bare nanoparticle were unable to fight off any viruses and died.

The drug will now have to undergo a Phase 1 clinical trial in humans. Researchers say that will take place at Oxford University and will likely take at least a year.

“It’s certainly encouraging,” Dr. Paul Offit, a virologist and immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Los Angeles Times. “But these are animal model studies, and as is well known among scientists, mice lie and monkeys exaggerate.”

“It’s hard to make universal vaccines work,” Offit added. “It’s not for want of money. It’s not for want of desire or effort. It’s just a very hard thing to do.”