La Jolla Scientists Forge Onwards in the Quest for a Complete Coronavirus Vaccine

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology was awarded $2.6 million as part of a wider project to create protective vaccines against past, present, and future coronaviruses.

Biotech researchers from San Diego to Boston are working feverishly to make the pan-coronavirus vaccine prospect a reality, and they have recently received some significant assistance. Erica Ollmann Saphire, the La Jolla Institute for Immunology’s President and Chief Executive, was awarded a three-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine, which would protect against all coronaviruses — past, present, and future.

Saphire is part of a broader project led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, involving researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston University. Scientists in Boston are looking for immunological responses that could help them fend against a wide range of coronaviruses. The subjects in their research focus on patients who have gotten vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

To make the method work, researchers must find elements of the viral surface that do not vary from one strain of coronavirus to the next and train the immune system to target them. In line with this, the vaccine’s design will get handled by Saphire’s team. Her team has worked out how to make a coronavirus spike protein that closely resembles the form of the spike on the actual virus, which latches onto cells and allows the virus to slip inside.

This research is important since the shape is everything for proteins. Each of our cells contains millions of proteins that fold into complex 3D structures, similar to origami. Each protein’s structure determines its functions, and even little alterations can affect how or if it works.

Many other researchers are pursuing the same objective. Within a 10-minute drive from Saphire’s lab, Scripps Research scientists are also working on a pan-coronavirus vaccine collaborating with the Gates Foundation.

As more scientists come full force to ward off the next pandemic, the world hopes to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel sooner rather than later.

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