Universal Coronavirus Vaccine? New Jab Targets Even Unknown Threats

Researchers have made a new coronavirus vaccine that could also protect against viruses we haven't found yet, to stop future pandemics.

Universal Coronavirus Vaccine? New Jab Targets Even Unknown Threats

The jab can protect against several coronaviruses already circulating in bats.

Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, and Caltech have developed a new type of coronavirus vaccine with a bold goal: protection against not only existing coronaviruses but also future ones we haven't even discovered yet.

This "proactive" vaccine approach aims to be a game-changer in pandemic preparedness. Unlike current vaccines that target specific viruses, this experimental shot trains the immune system to recognize common features of a whole family of coronaviruses, including COVID-19, SARS, and MERS.

In theory, a single dose of this vaccine could shield people from multiple coronaviruses, even those yet to emerge.

The key to this broad protection lies in a tiny protein structure called a "quartet nanocage." The scientists essentially turned this nanocage into a training tool by attaching "protein superglue" and specific viral components (antigens). This combination allows the immune system to learn how to fight off a wide range of coronaviruses.

So far, the vaccine has only been tested in mice. However, the initial results are promising, showing the immune system's ability to recognize eight different coronaviruses.

"Our focus is to create a vaccine that will protect us against the next coronavirus pandemic, and have it ready before the pandemic has even started," said Rory Hills, a graduate researcher in the University of Cambridge's Department of Pharmacology and first author of the report.

He added: "We've created a vaccine that provides protection against a broad range of different coronaviruses - including ones we don't even know about yet."

The results are published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

"We don't have to wait for new coronaviruses to emerge. We know enough about coronaviruses, and different immune responses to them, that we can get going with building protective vaccines against unknown coronaviruses now," said Professor Mark Howarth in the University of Cambridge's Department of Pharmacology, senior author of the report.

He added: "Scientists did a great job in quickly producing an extremely effective COVID vaccine during the last pandemic, but the world still had a massive crisis with a huge number of deaths. We need to work out how we can do even better than that in the future, and a powerful component of that is starting to build the vaccines in advance."