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US Army is testing a universal vaccine it hopes will target all coronavirus variants

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A vial of spike ferritin nanoparticle (SpFN), WRAIR’s COVID-19 vaccine.
U.S. Army photo by Mike Walters/ RELEASED
  • The US Army is testing a vaccine it hopes will target all Covid-19 coronavirus variants. 
  • The vaccine, named SpFN, also showed promise against SARS, another dangerous coronavirus disease. 
  • The results of early human trials should be released this month, the Army said. 
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The US Army is wrapping up early clinical trials on a vaccine it hopes will target all existing coronavirus variants. 

Named SpFN, for Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle, shown promise in non-human primate trials and early human trial results are expected "this month," according to a press release from the US Army Walter Reed Army Institute of Research released on Thursday

The jab could also help protect against other coronaviruses beyond Covid-19, which could offer hope against future pandemics. 

A new design

The vaccine is designed on a new platform called "self-assembling protein nanoparticle."

Unlike most currently available vaccines, which use mRNA to trigger the immune system, this shot would work by injecting a molecule that looks a little like a 24-faced soccer ball, according to Defense One.

Each face of the "ball" would carry a bit of the spike protein that can trigger the body to mount a protective immune response.

This allows scientists to attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains on different faces of the "ball," so the body could protect against several variants at once, instead of having to take a separate dose for each variant.

Pre-clinical results are promising and human results are coming soon, says the Army

Early results in primates suggest the shot could work against Covid-19 variants and against other coronaviruses as well, the Army said.

According to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine on Thursday, SpFN protected non-human primates from disease caused by the original variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

Two doses given 28 days apart also triggered strong immune responses against Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants.

Results from very early clinical trials of SpFN in humans, called Phase 1, are expected to be released "this month," the Army said in the press release.  

Developing a vaccine against the next pandemic

In primates, SpFN was also able to trigger a strong immune response against SARS-CoV-1, a relative of the Covid-19 coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak that killed 774 people in 2002 and 2003.

The hope is that this shot could be an effective "pan-coronavirus" vaccine, which could target all sorts of coronaviruses.

The Army is not the only institute developing designs for pan-coronavirus vaccines. Such a vaccine could also be useful to prevent future pandemics, which are expected to be driven by other kinds of coronaviruses.

"The accelerating emergence of human coronaviruses throughout the past two decades and the rise of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including most recently Omicron, underscore the continued need for next-generation preemptive vaccines that confer broad protection against coronavirus diseases," said Dr Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR, co-inventor of the vaccine and the U.S. Army lead for SpFN.

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