A new generation of coronavirus vaccine is being developed by Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institutet.
The vaccine is being specifically designed to be less sensitive to mutations and better equipped for any future strains.
The vaccine showed promising results in mice in a newly published study in EMBO Molecular Medicine, and the researchers now hope to be able to take it to safety studies on humans.
Matti Sällberg, professor at the department of laboratory medicine, Karolinska Institutet said:“This is a new generation of corona vaccine.
“The idea is that it will give broader protection that more resembles that gained after an actual infection and will be a bit more future-proof than the vaccines currently in use.”
Sällberg is the study’s joint last author with Ali Mirazimi, adjunct professor at the same department.
They say different types of vaccine have been highly instrumental in impeding the pandemic caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. One challenge is the virus’s mutability, which is to say its ability to change to avoid the human defense response.
Most current vaccines are based on using parts of the coronavirus’s so-called spike protein to trigger the body’s immune response to the virus.
The researchers note that this is a good vaccine protein to use, but that unfortunately, it is the spike protein where frequent mutations occur, which can impact the vaccines’ effectiveness.
The researchers at Karolinska Institutet therefore started developing a vaccine containing more parts of the virus, including ones that do not mutate at the same rate as the spike protein.
The vaccine is a DNA vaccine, which means that it comprises DNA sequences which when injected into the body make the cells produce the proteins that the DNA sequences contain instructions for. In this case, it concerns DNA for parts of the spike protein from three different coronavirus variants and DNA for another two virus proteins, called M and N, where mutations are less common.
In this newly published study, the researchers show that the vaccine protects mice against serious infection from the beta variant of SARS-CoV-2, a variant that can evade the immune response, and activates immune cells (T cells) that recognize the coronavirus found in bats.
The researchers hope that the vaccine can one day be used as a booster to be given as a top-up after a basic vaccination with other vaccines.
Sällberg added: “The next step is to test it on humans in a small safety study, what’s known as a phase I study, and we’ve submitted permit applications for this.”
The vaccine has been designed and tested at Karolinska Institutet in collaboration with the Karolinska University Hospital and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.
Infection studies and toxicological studies have been conducted with the Swedish Public Health Agency and Adlego Biomedical, a company based in Solna, Sweden. Northx Biologics in Matfors, Sweden, have produced the vaccine.
The vaccine is administered with a newly developed instrument for DNA vaccination produced by the Italian company IGEA Biomedical. The project also involves researchers from Germany’s Justus Liebig University, which has studied how the innate immune response is affected by the vaccine.
Earlier this month, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences discovered that spider silk proteins can be fused to biologically active proteins and be converted into a gel at body temperature.