Scientists in the U.S. Army are developing a Covid-19 vaccine designed to protect against current and future variants—and even other coronaviruses— and are expected to announce positive early results within weeks, a head researcher told the military news outlet Defense One on Tuesday.
Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of infectious diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told Defense One positive results from the first human trials of its Covid-19 vaccine are expected “within weeks.”
The vaccine was designed to address potential coronavirus variants and, unlike other Covid-19 vaccines, consists of a protein with 24 different faces on it, on which scientists can attach spike proteins from different variants that train the immune system to recognize many types of the virus, WRAIR researchers have explained.
Initial trials of the vaccine in non-human primates generated strong antibody responses that protected against both the original strain that causes Covid-19, according to a study published last week in Science Translational Medicine, as well as variants of the virus and even other coronaviruses, such as the SARS-CoV-1 virus that spread worldwide in the early 2000s.
The first human trials began in April, WBAIR said in a press release, and Modjarrad told Defense One the trial tested the vaccine on people who hadn’t been vaccinated and had not previously contracted Covid-19, and results are now undergoing a final review before they’re published.
The vaccine can be stored at a wide range of temperatures, which could make it easier to distribute around the world, WRAIR said in a press release, and its apparent ability to protect against other coronaviruses means it could also help ward off future viruses that emerge beyond Covid-19, the authors of the Science study noted.
“We decided to take a look at the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of [SARS-CoV-2], and instead understand that viruses mutate, there will be variants that emerge, future viruses that may emerge in terms of new species,” Modjarrad told Defense One. “Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that.”
What To Watch For
The next phase of the vaccine’s development will be phase two and three trials in humans. Modjarrad told Defense One the next trial phase will look at how the vaccine works in people that have previously received a Covid-19 vaccine or been infected with the virus.
The positive news about Walter Reed’s vaccine comes as the effectiveness of vaccines now on the market, like those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, has waned in light of new variants. While the vaccines have remained consistently effective at preventing severe illness and death, studies showed they weren’t as capable of stopping infections of the delta variant, and evidence suggests they’re even less protective against the highly mutated omicron variant. One study from South Africa’s largest health insurer found two doses of the Pfizer vaccine only provides approximately 33% protection against omicron infection, for instance, though early data suggests booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide stronger protection against the variant. The vaccines’ diminished effectiveness has prompted vaccine manufacturers to start developing omicron-specific versions of their shots—something that shouldn’t be necessary with Walter Reed’s “pan-coronavirus” vaccine.
A SARS-CoV-2 ferritin nanoparticle vaccine elicits protective immune responses in nonhuman primates (Science Translational Medicine)