Scientists call for investment into novel, potentially pan-virus vaccines to prevent the next pandemic

Investment into vaccines based on broadly neutralising antibodies could allow pan-virus vaccines to be developed and stockpiled before the next pandemic, say researchers.

investment in vaccines - financial chart overlaid with a vaccine

As speculations call into question the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against emerging strains, researchers are calling for health agencies to invest in the development of COVID-19 vaccines that would be broadly effective against many different variants and strains of potential pandemic viruses.

The commentary published in Nature, authored by Dr Dennis Burton and Dr Eric Topol from The Scripps Research Institute, US, appeals for governments to provide significant funding support for rational vaccine design based on broadly neutralising antibodies, which can provide broad-spectrum protection from viruses. According to Burton and Topol, vaccines and therapies based on antibodies could be readily adapted to combat newly emerged pandemic viruses or those that rapidly evolve to evade traditional vaccines.

They added that the rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines was possible due to the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Spike (S) protein on its surface in particular. However, cautioned that the virus underlying the next pandemic may not provide such a ready target, potentially substantially slowing the process of developing a novel vaccine.

“Even SARS-CoV-2 could be becoming more problematic for vaccines because of the emergence of new variants,” they wrote. “We call for an alternative approach to pandemic preparedness.”

Of particularly concern for future pandemics, said Burton and Topol, are viruses that are highly evasive and therefore difficult to treat or prevent, such as HIV, which can remain in the body for years, evading the host’s immune system.

Burton and his colleagues at Scripps Research and other organisations are currently developing vaccines based on broadly neutralising antibodies in hopes of producing the world’s first truly effective HIV vaccines. They are also seeking to employ broadly neutralising antibodies as therapies and vaccines against influenza, another evasive virus and prime contender for future pandemics.

Burton and Topol wrote in their commentary: “Such pan-virus vaccines could be made in advance and deployed before the next emerging infection becomes a pandemic… We call for an investment now in basic research leading to the stockpiling of broadly effective vaccines.”

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