Developing the Next Generation of COVID-19 Vaccines

Researchers continue to refine coronavirus vaccines using HIV-based technologies

by Jeffrey Laurence, M.D.

Research question
Use of mRNA technology by two drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, in the design of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, revolutionized the response to this infection. But now, more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, development of strains of virus resistant to the original vaccines illustrate the need to reconfigure these products. It is likely that such COVID-19 vaccines will be available in the U.S. by mid-September. But what might serve as the best platform to combat future SARS-CoV-2 variants?

The structural protein analyses of the SARS-CoV-2 envelope S protein that enabled design of the highly effective mRNA vaccines originated in research on the HIV envelope. Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the NIH Vaccine Research Center, acknowledged that “[i]t really was HIV driving most of this.”

Now researchers working in the U.S., Switzerland, and at the Institut Pasteur in Paris have used similar technology to focus on a part of the S protein known as RBD, which is the target for 90% of the virus-neutralizing antibodies present in recovering COVID-19 patients. They constructed a flexible, nanoparticle-based vaccine that protected genetically engineered mice against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant.

The authors concluded that their nanoparticle mRNA-based vaccine platform should be of value for “rapid development of effective vaccines against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.”

amfAR’s role
amfAR was a funder of this research

Original article

Dr. Laurence is amfAR’s senior scientific consultant.

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