Scientists at the University of Nottingham are developing a "universal” COVID-19 vaccine which, if successful, would end the need to keep tweaking existing vaccines in response to emerging variants, reported The Telegraph.
Existing vaccines such as those from Pfizer and AstraZeneca target the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, but their efficacy is expected to wane as this element of the virus mutates.
Already there is evidence they do not protect as well against variants containing the E484K mutation, such as those circulating widely in southern Africa and Brazil. However, the universal vaccines would also target proteins found in the core of the virus which are far less likely to mutate, the news source said.
UK company Scancell, which specialises in developing cancer vaccines, and several other firms from Europe and the US are already working on "variant-proof" candidates and hope to be able to show they can produce effective immune responses.
Alongside scientists from the University of Nottingham, Scancell is targeting a protein in the core of the virus called the nucleocapsid or "N" protein, alongside the spike protein. Clinical trials of their vaccine will begin in the second half of this year.
A number of other biotechnology firms are working on similar jabs. Osivax has just completed a Phase II trial of a universal influenza vaccine that also targets the N protein, while MyNeo has used modelling to suggest which parts of the virus might remain stable longest, allowing them to maximise vaccine longevity.
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