In a sense, the world got lucky with the new coronavirus. Incidentally, scientists have spent years studying coronaviruses, developing the tools needed to make COVID vaccines as soon as the virus’s genetic sequence was published.
But what if the next pandemic comes from the virus that causes Lassa fever, or the Sudan strain of Ebola, or the Nipah virus?
Dr. Anthony S., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci is promoting an ambitious and costly plan to prepare for such a nightmare. He said it would cost “a few billion dollars” a year, take five years for the first harvest of results and involve a large cadre of scientists.
About 20 families have the idea of creating “prototype” vaccines to protect against viruses that could spark a new pandemic. Using research tools proven to be successful for COVID-19, researchers will uncover the molecular structure of each virus, learn where antibodies should kill it, and how to prompt the body to make antibodies in exactly the same way.
“If we get funding, which I believe we will do, it’s likely to start in 2022,” Dr. Fauci said, adding that he was promoting the idea “in discussions with the White House and others”. are giving.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, also thought the necessary funding would be allocated, calling the project “compelling”.
“As we begin to contemplate a successful end to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not turn back to complacency,” Dr. Collins said.
Most of the financial aid Dr. Fauci, but a project of this scope would require additional funding that would have to be allocated by Congress. This year’s budget for the Institute for Infectious Diseases is a little over $6 billion. Dr. Fauci did not specify how much additional funding would be needed.
If surveillance networks detect a new virus spreading from animals to people, the rationale is that scientists can stop it by quickly building a prototype vaccine to protect people from outbreaks. And if the virus spread before the world realized what was happening, prototype vaccines could be deployed more widely.
A vaccine researcher and chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute, Dr. “The name of the game will be to try to limit the spillover to the outbreak,” Dennis Burton said.
The Prototype Vaccine Project is the brainchild of Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He presented the idea at a private meeting of the directors of the institute in February 2017.
Year after year, the virus threatened to turn into a pandemic, Dr. Graham said: H1N1 swine flu in 2009, chikungunya in 2012, MERS in 2013, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016. Every time scientists tried to make a vaccine. . His only success was partial with the Ebola vaccine, which helped control the pandemic but would not work against other Ebola strains. Other epidemics ended before vaccines were made or tested.
“We were exhausted,” said Dr. Graham.
But researchers have had new tools developed over the past decade that could make a big difference. They allowed scientists to look at the molecular structures of the virus, isolate the antibodies that block the virus, and find out where they bind. The result was the potential for “structure-based designs” for new vaccines that more precisely target the pathogen.
Dr. Fauci was inspired when he heard Dr. Graham’s pitch in 2017. “It made me and the others on the executive committee something that’s really worth doing,” Dr. Fauci said.
Posted by Dr Graham review paper Outlining the proposal in Nature Immunology in 2018. But without the urgency of a dangerous pandemic, his view remained just that.
Now, however, many think the time has come.
The Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has created a spreadsheet for each of the 20 virus families, showing what is known about each pathogen’s anatomy and vulnerabilities, said Dr. John Mascola said.
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“For each virus family we are in a different position of knowledge and vaccine development,” said Dr. Muskola said. For example, Lassa fever and Nipah virus vaccines are in the early stages. Chikungunya and Zika vaccines are ahead.
Filling the gaps in vaccine development will be done with research grants to academic scientists. “There is a lot of enthusiasm among academic researchers,” said Dr. Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Although the proposal is not well known among the general public, Dr. Fauci said he discussed it in conversations with scientific audiences.
Dr. Fauci said the program will also establish collaborative agreements with pharmaceutical companies to produce rapid prototype vaccines.
This is what happened with the shots of Kovid-19. The SARS and MERS pandemic prompted scientists to work on a coronavirus vaccine. This showed that coronaviruses use spike proteins to infect cells, but the spike readily changes shape and needs to be kept in a position to be useful as a vaccine. This can be done, the researchers discovered, with small molecular changes in the spike protein.
A few days after the sequence of the new coronavirus was published, scientists developed vaccines to fight it.
Dr. Fauci said, only this can prepare for the epidemic. He wants to develop prototype vaccines for 10 of the 20 virus families in the first five years of work.
Dr Fauci acknowledged, “It would require a huge amount of money.” “But what we’ve been through isn’t out of the question.”