Durham, N.C. — Duke researchers have created a vaccine with the potential to protect against all forms of coronavirus that move from animals to humans, now and in the future.
On Monday morning, Duke experts held a briefing to discuss the vaccine, which they believe could prevent future pandemics.
The vaccine works by attacking a genetic sequence common to all forms of coronavirus that enables them to bind to human cells. The new vaccine has been 100% effective in non-human tests.
Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci called the new research ‘potentially exciting’ and an important proof of concept.
On Monday, Duke immunologists discussed their research and its implications during a video conference call.
The vaccine works by taking a small part of the virus – the part that actually attaches to cells – and presents multiple copies to the immune system.
“That allows the immune system to focus a response against that part of the virus, preventing the virus from being able to attach to cells and hopefully prevent subsequent infection,” said Dr. Kevin Saunders, an associate professor of surgery at Duke and director of research at the Vaccine Institute.
Saunders was the lead author on the new research published last week.
The vaccine will bind not only to SARS-CoV-2, but also coronaviruses that circulate in animals, according to Saunders.
One reason this vaccine has been able to be created so quickly is due to 20 years of work in developing an HIV vaccine, according to Dr. Barton Haynes, a professor of medicine and immunology at the Duke School of Medicine and director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.
“We published a paper … on a breakthrough in HIV vaccine development,” said Haynes, who said it uses the same kind of technology and vaccine designs that could be used for coronavirus.
“We knew that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is an RNA virus. It’s the same kind of genetic material that the HIV virus uses,” said Haynes.
“The HIV virus is one of the most rapidly evolving life forms that we know – because RNA viruses tend to make mistakes as they replicate. And we knew the SARS-CoV-2 would also create mutants that would escape our immune system as the immune system made antibodies against it,” he said.
The new vaccine technology helps prevent replication of the virus in the nose, as well as in the lungs.
Haynes believes now is the time to plan for the next coronavirus pandemic or outbreak – because we’ve had two major outbreaks before COVID-19, all in the past two decades.
“One in 2003, the SARS outbreak, and one in 2011, the MERS outbreak,” he said.
He expects there will certainly be others.
“So now is the time to provide vaccines that will prepare for those, so we can now control outbreaks and prevent them from becoming pandemics in the future.”