‘Future-proof’ vaccine technology could protect against Covid variants | Tech News

The new vaccine provided a strong immune response against a range of coronaviruses (Picture: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

A new ‘future-proof’ vaccine has shown promise in providing immunity against new Covid-19 variants.

The vaccine is based on modifying just one antigen to provide a broadly protective immune response in animals.

Antigens are substances that cause the immune system to produce antibodies against viruses.

The vaccine antigen technology, developed by the University of Cambridge and spin-out DIOSynVax in early 2020, provided protection against all known variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, as well as other major coronaviruses, including those that caused the first SARS epidemic in 2002.

It also provided a strong immune response against a range of coronaviruses by targeting the parts of the virus that are required for replication.

Even though the vaccine was designed before the emergence of the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2, it provided strong protection against all of these and against more recent variants.

According to the results of a study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, vaccines based on DIOSynVax antigens may also protect against future Covid-19 variants.

The vaccine is based on modifying just one antigen to provide a broadly protective immune response in animals (Picture: Getty Images North America)

Since the SARS outbreak in 2002, coronavirus ‘spillovers’ from animals to humans have been a threat to public health, and require vaccines that provide broad protection.

‘In nature, there are lots of these viruses just waiting for an accident to happen,’ said Professor Jonathan Heeney from Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine, who led the research.

‘We wanted to come up with a vaccine that wouldn’t only protect against SARS-CoV-2, but all its relatives.’

All currently available vaccines, such as the seasonal flu vaccine and existing Covid-19 vaccines, are based on virus strains or variants that arose at some point in the past.

‘However, viruses are mutating and changing all the time,’ said Professor Heeney.

‘Current vaccines are based on a specific isolate or variant that occurred in the past, it’s possible that a new variant will have arisen by the time we get to the point that the vaccine is manufactured, tested and can be used by people.’

Heeney’s team has been developing a new approach to coronavirus vaccines, by targeting their ‘Achilles heel’.

A new ‘future-proof’ vaccine has shown promise in providing protection against new Covid-19 variants (Picture: Getty Images)

Instead of targeting just the parts of the virus that change to evade our immune system, the Cambridge vaccine targets the critical regions of the virus that it needs to complete its virus life cycle.

The team identifies these regions through computer simulations and selecting conserved structurally engineered antigens.

‘This approach allows us to have a vaccine with a broad effect that viruses will have trouble getting around,’ said Professor Heeney.

Using this approach, the team identified a unique antigen structure that gave a broad immunity against different coronaviruses that occur in nature.

The vaccine is currently in clinical trials in Southampton and Cambridge, and can be administered using a variety of vaccine delivery systems, including DNA vaccines, viral vector vaccines, and mRNA vaccines.

In all cases, the vaccine has generated a strong immune response in mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs against a range of coronaviruses.

‘Unlike current vaccines that use wild-type viruses or parts of viruses that have caused trouble in the past, this technology combines lessons learned from nature’s mistakes and aims to protect us from the future,’ said Professor Heeney.

‘These optimised synthetic antigens generate broad immune responses, targeted to the key sites of the virus that can’t change easily. It opens the door for vaccines against viruses that we don’t yet know about. This is an exceptionally different vaccine technology – it’s a real turning point.’

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