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Monday, April 22nd, 2024

UNC vaccine research targets coronaviruses

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University of North Carolina (UNC) Gillings School of Global Public Health researchers are exploring the potential of a universal vaccine protecting mice against other coronaviruses and variants.

Scientists noted coronaviruses continue to be a threat after causing the SARS outbreak 18 years ago, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. As a means of preventing a coronavirus pandemic in the future, researchers designed the vaccine to provide protection from the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and a group of coronaviruses known to progress from animals to humans.

“The vaccine has the potential to prevent outbreaks when used as a new variant is detected,” Ralph Baric, an epidemiologist at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of immunology and microbiology at the UNC School of Medicine, said.

The findings published in Science showed after researchers tested the effectiveness of the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines. Attention was focused on a second-generation vaccine targeting sarbecoviruses, which are a priority for virologists after two caused SARS and COVID-19 over the last 20 years.

The work involved combining mRNA, similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines presently used, from multiple coronaviruses. The determination was the hybrid vaccine effectively generated neutralizing antibodies against multiple spike proteins.

“Our findings look bright for the future because they suggest we can design more universal pan coronavirus vaccines to proactively guard against viruses we know are at risk for emerging in humans,” David Martinez, one of the study’s lead authors and a postdoctoral researcher at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said.