Image via the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
A “pan-coronavirus vaccine” could, as the name may suggest, have the potential to eradicate the need for variant-specific formulae when it comes to protecting ourselves from infection and severe onset of symptoms.
“There have been five… variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now the current Omicron,” explains White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci in a press briefing last week detailing the “universal” vaccine.
Coronaviruses have a huge phylogenetic tree, which includes SARS-CoV—which was SARS—and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Both of these are “sarbecoviruses,” which are a subset of Beta coronaviruses.
While the Alpha coronaviruses result in easier things to deal with, such as a cold in the winter, Beta coronaviruses are responsible for the “pandemic threats,” Fauci explains. These are the ones that have to be tackled with greater urgency.
It would be “unreasonable” to expect a pan-coronavirus vaccine for every single coronavirus out there, but it’s possible to focus on the dangerous ones, such as the sarbecovirus, he clarifies.
“Obviously, innovative approaches are needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses that are known and some that are even at this point unknown. Hence, the terminology ‘pan-coronavirus vaccine.’”
And it might not be in the hands of any well-known pharmaceutical company synonymous with the invention of vaccines but, instead, lies in the responsibilities of the US Army.
The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine, made by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, completed its first phase of human trials in December.
Ferritin, an iron-based protein, is key in helping the vaccine to recognize multiple spike proteins at once, hence its universality. As reported by PharmaLive, its structure is unique with 24 sides, and all of them can have a different viral protein attachment.
In preclinical studies with primates, it was shown that the vaccine didn’t just elicit a “potent immune response,” but it “may also provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern” alongside other coronaviruses.
There is still much testing to be done before the vaccine can be made available. There is no information to date about its potential availability. But maybe it might even be the last one that ever needs to be developed.
“I don’t want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two,” Fauci details in the press briefing. “It’s going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion.”
Having said this, he also urges, “So, do not wait to receive your primary vaccine regimen. And… please get your booster if you are eligible.”
[via CNET and PharmaLive, image via the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research]