A single dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 developed by the Rega Institute of the University of Leuven, based on the yellow fever vaccine, could protect for life, as the head of the center, Johan Neyts, and the Spanish researcher explain to Efe Lorena Snchez Felipe.
In addition to the promising vaccine, the team tries to give with effective treatments against SARS-Cov-2 and other viruses.
Snchez Felipe and Neyts receive Efe at the entrance of a modern building that houses an automated laboratory unique of its kind where, as “looking for a needle in a haystack”, in recent months they have been analyzed 1.7 million substances to see if they reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Only Spanish in the team
“I’ve been working here for four years … in the vaccine group. My main job is the design, the discovery of new vaccines. I take care of all the part of molecular biology related to them“, says the scientist, who studied Biology and Biochemistry in Salamanca before doing a post-doctorate at the Albany Medical Center (New York), where she spent three and a half years researching the Hepatitis C virus.
The researcher explains that she has been actively involved in the design of the Rega Institute’s coronavirus vaccine.
“From the moment we started working I quickly made the knowledge-based designs that we already have other vaccines “, particularly that of yellow fever, points out.
“We have made an incredible effort. We have joined several teams working on different parts that were necessary to try to create the vaccine as soon as possible “, explains the expert.
He assures that all of them have been “practically working day and night, from Monday to Sunday, since it started.”
The devastating effects of the virus have meant that “if you’re already motivated, now the motivation is even greater to come up with something that can stop this“, aade.
The Rega Institute team is confident that the vaccine be authorized in 2022, after tests carried out on hamsters, which have yielded very good results and which must be completed with human trials.
The new technique used by this team of researchers consists of using the genetic code of the yellow fever vaccine virus as a vector (carrier) of the spine protein of Covid-19 to achieve an “efficient” protective response against both viruses at the same time, explains Neyts.
The reason why the yellow fever vaccine has been used, he adds, is that “It is 82 years old, it has been used in 800 million people, especially in endemic regions (…) and a single dose acts quickly, providing long-lasting protection. “
That potential vaccine is the Institute’s biggest bet at the moment, which began to develop it in early 2020, after teams from China and Australia published the genetic code of the virus online.
“Two weeks later we started designing it”explains the Belgian expert.
“We have seen that in hamsters our vaccine is very effective, a single dose fully protects them in just ten days against SARS-Cov-2 infection“, aade.
Compared to the two vaccines that are already authorized in the European Union, Pfizer / BionTech and Moderna, “the advantage of our vaccine is that it also helps in places where yellow fever is endemicLike Latin America and Africa, that can be a bonus. “
Also, it can be stored at 5 degrees, “quite possibly it will have long term protection” and also protect against yellow fever.
Following animal studies, human trials are expected to start next fall.
“It may seem late compared to Pfizer and others but we are a smaller team, with a different budget,” adds Neyts, and specifies that if all goes well, they are confident that the vaccine will receive an authorization in 2022.
The laboratory now operates with the Dutch company Batavia Biosciences to manufacture the vaccine in large quantities. and to be able to carry out the tests in volunteers.
“We are a small academic laboratoryWe cannot produce a vaccine in the quantity that is needed to carry out the clinical trials, we are working with a company in the Netherlands, which is producing the vaccine for these tests, ”explains Sánchez Felipe.
The recipients could be both the population of Europe and the United States to which another vaccine has already been administered before and needs to be vaccinated again, as “countries where yellow fever is endemic or in Asia, where the mosquito that transmits it is also found in some areas and could create epidemics, “says Neyts.
New weapons against SARS-Cov-2
Both Snchez Felipe and Neyts insist that two types of weapons are needed to combat SARS-COV-2: the vaccine and antiviral drugs.
“It is important to have some medicine to use because the vaccines take a while. Here we cover both aspects“, she says.
Unlike other viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis B or C “We do not have drugs against SARS-Cov-2” points out Professor Neyts, who underlines the need not only to work in this area now but to prepare for the emergence of new viruses in the future.
“Let’s imagine that in the first weeks in China we would have had medicines (…) we could have treated medical personnel, families, contacts, and possibly that could have helped control the outbreak and allow time to control the spread, “says this expert.
Considers that what happened during the pandemic should serve the world of “lesson for the future”.
“We must find drugs for the coronavirus but also for other viruses,” says the virologist, who does not believe that Covid-19 can be eradicated but that “possibly we will attenuate it and it will remain as a kind of the flu virus that we see in winter “.
“Billions of dollars and euros are invested in Defense (…) and we are not protected against the virus, this would cost nothing in comparison, is the lesson. We must be prepared for the unexpected, developing drugs takes years “, concludes the professor.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism