Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London discovered that a specific part of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is a good target to get a vaccine dose against many coronaviruses and their possible variants. The discovery represents a promising step forward in the development of a universal vaccine.
In the new study, the researchers investigated whether antibodies to the so-called “S2 subunit” of the spike protein neutralized other coronaviruses as well. After Sars-CoV-2 S2 vaccination, mice developed antibodies capable of neutralizing multiple coronaviruses, according to the report. Guardian.
The scientists also included in the application the common cold virus HCoV-0C43, the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the mutant D614G that dominated the first wave, alpha, beta, delta, the original omicron and two bat coronaviruses.
“The S2 region of the spike protein is a promising target for a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine because it is more similar across different coronaviruses than the S1 region,” said Kevin Ng, one of the authors of the study. “It’s subject to mutation, so a vaccine that targets this region needs to be very strong.”
Until now, the S2 region of the spike protein had been overlooked as a potential basis for the vaccine, the researchers said.
George Cassiotis, also an author, said: “The expectation of a vaccine targeting the S2 region is that it may provide some protection against current and future coronaviruses.”
This discovery now differs from vaccines targeting the highly variable S1 region. While they are effective against the relevant variant for which they are designed, their ability to target other types or widespread coronaviruses is limited.
Co-first author Nikhil Faulkner, from the Francis Crick Institute, said: “The potential S2 vaccine would not prevent people from becoming infected, the idea is to prepare their immune system to respond to a future coronavirus infection.”
Why is it so difficult to develop a universal vaccine?
Developing a vaccine that protects against various coronaviruses is a major challenge, as this virus family is highly heterogeneous, frequently mutating and often inducing incomplete protection against re-infection. This is why multiple infections with different strains of Sars-CoV-2 are possible.
A universal coronavirus vaccine should induce antibodies that recognize and neutralize different types of coronaviruses, preventing the virus from entering host cells and replicating.
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