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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

From London to D.C., surveillance players at work in the hunt for a possible coronavirus vaccine

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Over the weekend, scientists announced the promising discovery of a promising anti-viral weapon for the rarely-seen and still-serious coronavirus, the only known respiratory illness transmitted by droplets from an infected person in the Middle East.

Within the week, this story took many unexpected twists and turns as the quest for this antigens rumbled onward.

Antibodies are proteins produced in the body. There are so many bacterial and viral antibodies that some uses suggested a target size so small it seemed destined for extinction: the size of the protein the body makes for antibodies to help fight against the HIV virus, for example. Scientists worked on building up an anti-CVI array before moving on to the next challenge: achieving the same effect on other pathogens.

In some cases, in vitro tests showed possible real-world promise, with antibody output against coronaviruses large enough to possibly have killed some cases.

Scientists, relying on their learning curve after the discovery of Lassa fever two years ago, built up the antigens using different ways than they had with the HIV antigens. The recombinant virus-like particles (VLPs) they created target one different part of the surface than the HIV antigen, cutting off the current drive for antibodies that target specific regions of the surface.

Researchers are hoping to also be able to elicit antibodies against other virulent viruses such as influenza and Ebola. VLPs would likely have to survive on the surface of the virus, or else they might not provoke sufficient immune responses to counter the virus. In light of this, the group’s antigens remain more for potential than something that could actually work.

Still, work in vitro has shown that the antibodies could potentially be an advantage, leading to the search for a lower-cost antibody-producing method. And it’s the discovery of that simpler, cheaper method that could be even more important.

Researchers are still searching for a four-finger solution to the pathogen-immunity problem, and applying the latest discovered strategies to developing a manufacturing system is the next step.

This article appeared in Digital Health, a supplement of the New York Times. It has been republished with permission.

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