Understanding Protective Antibody Mechanisms in COVID-19 to Engineer Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

filling a syringe with a vaccine dose

As demonstrated by influenza, vaccination strategies targeting neutralizing but variable receptor binding proteins do not yield an effective universal flu vaccine.

Led by collaborators Geoffrey Hart, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, and Marco Pravetoni, PhD, associate professor in pharmacology, researchers in this study aim to ultimately develop a universal vaccine against the SARS-Cov virus family.

“It has proven difficult to generate a vaccine to SARS-Cov-2 virus in a short enough time to limit the pandemic, therefore the need for a universal vaccine is needed now to stop future coronaviruses,” said Hart. “Most vaccine development efforts are focusing on the Spike subunit S1 protein, which allows entry of the virus but varies significantly. This target may not provide protection against future variants of the virus…. Therefore we expect that vaccination against the Spike subunit S1 protein may not protect immunized individuals against the next SARS-Cov virus.”

This study’s researchers will use a novel strategy that focuses on less variable targets, that are also expressed on the virus’s surface.

The researchers plan to look at efficacy of immunizations, perform mechanistic studies to determine the key cells involved in viral clearance, and assess any antibody dependent enhancement effects that may also occur.

“If our hypothesis is correct, this approach will yield both understanding of the antibody response to coronavirus and a long lasting universal vaccine with minimal side effects. The data will tell us if we are right or not,” said Hart.

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.