But what is this potential new vaccine and how would it work? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the potential new vaccine design?
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland think they have found a new approach to vaccine design that could lead them to a long-lasting jab. The vaccine may also work on other coronaviruses, not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid.
The NIH team reported its findings in a peer-reviewed study that appeared in the journal Cell Host & Microbe earlier this month.
The key to the potential vaccine design is a part of the virus called the spine helix - a coil-shaped structure inside the spike protein which helps the virus that grab onto and infect our cells. Many of the current vaccines target the spike protein, but none of them specifically target the spine helix.
The spine helix doesn’t change as the virus mutates - unlike many regions of the spike protein - which gives scientists “hope that an antibody targeting this region will be more durable and broadly effective,” Joshua Tan, the lead scientist on the NIH team, told The Daily Beast.
Researchers believe that a vaccine that binds the spine helix in SARS-CoV-2 should hold up for a long time and that it should also work on all the other coronaviruses that also include the spine helix.
To test this theory, the NIH researchers extracted antibodies from 19 recovering Covid patients and tested them on samples of five different coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1 and MERS. Their research found that of the 55 different antibodies, most honed in on parts of the virus that tend to mutate a lot, but just 11 targeted the spine helix.
However, those 11 that went after the spine helix worked better, on average, on four of the coronaviruses.
The researchers said: “These findings identify a class of antibodies that broadly neutralise [coronaviruses] by targeting the stem helix.” But they added: “Although these data are useful for vaccine design, we have not performed vaccination experiments in this study and thus cannot draw any definitive conclusions with regard to the efficacy of stem helix-based vaccines.”
Although the spine-helix antibodies appear to be broadly effective, it’s unclear how well they will work against antibodies that are more specific. Mr Tan said: “Further experiments need to be done to evaluate if they will be sufficiently protective in humans.”
Barton Haynes, a Duke University immunologist, told The Daily Beast he looked at spine-helix vaccine designs last year and concluded they’d be too pricey to warrant major investment.