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Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2: Development of a vaccine as quickly as possible
Given the spread of the novel Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus, it seems more than questionable whether the epidemic can be stopped soon. A vaccine against the virus would be all the more important. The fastest possible development of a vaccine against the new corona virus is also at the top of the agenda for German researchers.
Covid-19, the respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, is spreading internationally. Research institutes worldwide are working on the development of a vaccine against the virus. This goal is also high on the agenda for German scientists.
The number of infected people continues to rise
More and more people worldwide are infected with the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2. In Germany, more than 1,200 people have already contracted the virus. In the meantime there are also first deaths in this country.
“No vaccine is currently available. When a vaccine could be available is currently not foreseeable, ”writes the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
However, researchers around the world are currently working on the development of a vaccine against the new pathogen - also in Germany.
Respond quickly to outbreaks
In order to be able to react quickly to outbreaks such as those caused by the new corona virus, the research area "Emerging Infectious Diseases" is available at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF).
According to a communication, the scientists were able to show during the Ebola epidemic 2014 how important it is to prepare for new viruses.
The researchers responded immediately by driving the clinical vaccine development of an Ebola virus vaccine. The DZIF has successfully launched a first vaccine on the MERS coronavirus, which is related to the SARS-CoV-2 that is now emerging.
The researchers are now benefiting from these experiences in the current crisis situation. The experts use existing “building blocks” or so-called platforms to get a vaccine against the new corona virus as quickly as possible.
Vaccine platform No. 1
Under the direction of Prof. Gerd Sutter, virologist at the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) Munich, a so-called vector vaccine is being developed, which is based on the "Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara" (MVA) as a vector.
According to the information, the vaccine virus MVA was generated more than 30 years ago at the LMU as a vaccine against smallpox. The MVA viruses are so weakened that they can serve as harmless vectors for other vaccines.
As stated in the communication, this vector has already been used successfully in the DZIF to develop a vaccine against MERS coronavirus, a close relative of SARS-CoV-2; the testing of the vaccine is in clinical trials.
"We are counting on the fact that we can use the MVA platform as with MERS and only have to incorporate the genetic information for the surface protein of the SARS-CoV-2," explains Sutter, "that is, instead of a MERS coronavirus component, we will use the vector combine with a SARS-CoV-2 component. "
The decisive factor for the effectiveness of the vaccine are the components of the virus against which humans should form antibodies. The scientists selected the spike protein on the surface of the dreaded virus as a suitable coronavirus component. This protein is important for the pathogen to enter the human cell.
The corresponding gene sequence, i.e. the blueprint of this protein, is now to be combined with the genetic information of the MVA vector. The resulting vaccine virus then penetrates the cells during a vaccination and synthesizes the spike protein, which the immune system recognizes as “foreign” and thus stimulates the immune response.
Specific antibodies and T cells against the spike protein are formed, which are then supposed to prevent later infection with the virus.
First production steps completed in a few weeks
"The genetic construction of the vaccine and the first production steps will be completed in about six to eight weeks," said Prof. Stephan Becker from the University of Marburg; he is the coordinator of the DZIF research area "Emerging Infectious Diseases".
An enormous saving of time compared to conventional methods, in which, for example, reproducible viruses are used. But even if these first production steps go as expected, a vaccine will no longer be available this year. The researchers agree.
“Developing a vaccine is a lengthy, tedious process, especially the clinical trial for candidate approval. It won't work in a few weeks, ”says Becker.
The clinical trial will be led by Prof. Marylyn Addo from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). The doctor has played a major role in the development of the Ebola and MERS vaccines, for which clinical trials are still ongoing.
Vaccine platform # 2
In addition to the tried-and-tested MVA platform, the researchers at DZIF are also researching a second platform for vaccine development in order to reach their goal as quickly as possible.
Under the direction of the expert PD Dr. working at the DZIF Michael Mühlebach uses the measles vaccine as a vector for foreign viral proteins. Measles vaccination has been used millions of times with high effectiveness and safety since the 1960s.
Now the researchers are also combining this vector with a component of SARS-CoV-2. The recombinant vaccine viruses have already been generated, are currently being multiplied and then characterized in vitro and in vivo.
"If we have researched the suitability of a vaccine candidate based on the measles vaccine virus in six months, the development of a corresponding SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can then be driven forward by other research groups," says Mühlebach.
By publishing relevant research results, further development could then be made possible for industrial partners. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.