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Beyond The Spike

Vaccine makers have already begun looking beyond the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as a target, Katherine Wu reports in The Atlantic.

Even though all the COVID-19 vaccines deployed to date have successfully targeted the spike protein, Wu writes, research has made it clear that the coronavirus has shown a penchant for mutating, which may soon render this first round of spike-centric vaccines obsolete. As such, several companies are developing new vaccine formulations that target additional, multiple virus components.

For instance, Chinese company Sinopharm has already gained approval in its home country for a whole inactivated virus vaccine, while California's Gritstone Bio has a vaccine in human trials that contains spike protein as well as the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid and ORF3a proteins. And, Wu points out, an unpublished study by University of Minnesota researchers showed that an experimental vaccine containing only nucleocapsid lessened COVID-19 severity in rodents.

Meanwhile, California's ImmunityBio, helmed by CEO Patrick Soon-Shiong, has several versions of a spike-nucleocapsid combination vaccine in clinical trials that would be administered orally and may help the body produce unique antibodies and T cells to specifically defend airway tissues against the virus.

The main takeaway, Wu writes, is that vaccine makers are looking to become less reactive and more proactive to stay ahead of the shifty virus — an effort that can only be helped by regular sequencing of virus samples worldwide.