Experts From Osaka University In Japan Are Set To Come Up With A Single Vaccine For A Wide Range Of Coronaviruses


A team of scientists from Osaka University in Japan is about to develop a shot that might be able to offer protection from a wide range of coronaviruses, not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID19. Experts have said that they have been able to engineer antibodies that can protect people from the SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2, and three other coronaviruses that have been detected in bats and pangolins. The team of experts has said that developing a widely suitable vaccine has been the main goal of their study, as they have seen that shots currently available across the world are not very effective against new strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Health experts from Japan’s Osaka University have said that the strategy they have come up with can be used to avert other pandemics caused by these coronaviruses in the future.

The authors of the new study have said that the new method entails modifying proteins genetically from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They have specifically focused on the spike protein of the virus. The spike protein of the virus carries a receptor-binding domain that binds to a receptor known as ACE2 receptor that is found on human cells. After the spike protein attaches to the ACE2 receptor, the virus directly enters into human cells and starts making copies of it. Experts who have been involved in the new study have said that a part of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) that is known as the head region is unique in different coronaviruses. However, they have found that another part that is known as the core region is quite similar in many coronaviruses. The findings of the new study and the new strategy have been released in a journal called Experimental Medicine.

The authors of the study have said that protection that is offered by vaccines usually involves the generation of antibodies against the unique head region of the receptor-binding domain (RBD). It makes the immunity unique to a specific coronavirus. Scientists from Osaka University in Japan have genetically modified the receptor-binding domain (RBD) that is found on the spike protein to have sugar molecules joined to the head region. Experts have done a study on mice to understand this phenomenon in a better way. They have found that mice that have been exposed to modified proteins have been able to generate a larger proportion of antibodies against the core region of the RBD instead of the head region. Experts have said that normally shots target the head region to produce antibodies. Mice have been able to produce a type of antibodies that are known as broadly neutralizing antibodies by scientists.

In the lab tests, these antibodies have been able to eliminate not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus but SARS-CoV-1 as well which has been the reason behind the SARS outbreak in 2002. The authors of the study have noted that antibodies have been able to offer protection against three other coronaviruses as well that have been found in pangolins and bats. Experts have said that it has been one of the most crucial findings of the study. They have claimed that coronaviruses can be found in some species of animals that can go on to infect humans in the future.

Professor Tomohiro Kurosaki, who has been a part of the new study, has said that considering past coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS-CoV-1 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) that have been caused by zoonotic viruses, which have crossed species barriers, the possibility of similar outbreaks surfacing in the future is quite high. Such viruses pose a major threat to general public health. Professor Tomohiro Kurosaki is working at the WPI Immunology Frontier Research Centre at Osaka University. COVID19 shots that are available across the world have been proved to be somewhat less potent against new strains of coronavirus specifically against the delta variant. It shows that the protection derived from these shots is quite specific.

The authors of the study have said that making vaccines that can offer protection against a wide range of such viruses is in process. They have said that developing such vaccines take time and as they will become available people will need revaccination. Therefore, a universal shot might be an apt choice. On one hand, scientists from Japan have been looking at antigens that trigger immune responses, which are common in various coronaviruses. On the other hand, health experts from the US who have been working on mice have opted for a different method. The authors of the study from the US that have been released in February 2021 have said that a mosaic vaccine that is made out of many antigens can offer protection against a wide range of coronaviruses to mice. However, they have said due to challenges such as durability of the protection and whether it will be enough to fight new variants, it might take years to come up with such a universal shot for such kinds of zoonotic viruses. An infectious disease expert from Cardiff University in the UK, Dr. Andrew Freedman has said that the findings of these studies are quite promising. He has said that the findings of these studies show that a universal shot for all zoonotic viruses can be made in the future.

Dr. Freedman has said that people can be infected with these viruses again and again; therefore, it shows immunity is not a sure-shot solution. However, a part of the immune response to a coronavirus will surely offer cross-immunity to other coronaviruses, as some parts are shared by all such kinds of pathogens. Andrew Freedman has said that however, as the new studies have been done on mice, it is going to take some time before a shot offering broad range protection comes up for humans.