Update on UVA’s research behind potential COVID-19 vaccine capable against any variant

COVID-19 vaccine shot
COVID-19 vaccine shot(WVIR)
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 9:33 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With attention shifting to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, we have an update to a story we’ve been tracking for months.

Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a universal vaccine that would fight all current and future variants. The vaccine is still in the laboratory stage, meaning it still has to go through mice and then to a clinical trial on humans.

However, Dr. Steven Zeichner, a pediatric infectious disease expert leading the work, is optimistic about the team’s discoveries and said there is a sense of urgency.

“We sort of have the proof principle for the idea, but before we want to pick one thing to push hard on for humans, we want to have a good foundation. We want to make the best thing that we can make,” Zeichner said.

Zeichner told NBC29 on Zoom that scientists are targeting the fusion peptide region of the virus -- that’s a part of the spike protein that is “universally conserved” among all versions of SARS-CoV-2.

“We’re trying to make a universal vaccine that will protect against all variants by targeting this one part of the virus that apparently can’t mutate,” he said.

Eventually, Zeichner hopes it will get to be tried on humans and will be a factor in limiting the replication of the virus and the emergence of new variants.

“Most of those variants will be lethal for the virus, but a small number will be helpful for the virus,” he said. “They’ll make it easier to replicate, easier to infect people, and easier to evade the immune system. So it is urgent.”

The other reason Zeichner and his team want this vaccine to move forward is to help protect people globally.

“The other thing that we’re doing is producing this vaccine in a way that should yield a very inexpensive vaccine that can be used or manufactured in factories that currently exist around the world,” Zeichner said.

He said they can do this by genetically engineering bacteria to produce the fusion peptide.

“Growing bacteria is very easy, it’s very cheap,” Zeichner said.

Zeichner added that it’s still important to get the vaccines that are currently available, calling them “an amazing biotechnological advancement.”

March 24, 2021: UVA and Virginia Tech team up to test COVID-19 vaccine in pigs

Sept. 23, 2020: UVA researchers working on COVID-19 vaccine

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