UCI researchers developing vaccine designed to prevent future coronavirus outbreaks

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- Remember the SARS and MERS outbreaks? Those were both coronaviruses. Could another deadly outbreak occur in the next few years?

If there's anything we've learned is that we need to be prepared. Scientists at UC Irvine are developing a vaccine designed to prevent future coronavirus outbreaks.

In December 2019, a novel coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, China.

Shortly after, Chinese scientists released the virus's full genome sequence. With that, researchers were able to develop COVID-19 vaccines in record time. But even with unprecedented speed, the virus has killed nearly 2 million people worldwide.

UCI professor Lbachir BenMohamed, Ph.D. said it's not a matter of if another coronavirus will emerge, but when.

"Are we prepared for the next outbreak?" he asked. "There will very likely be an outbreak. Maybe 2025, 2028, 2030. Who knows?"

BenMohamed and his team at the UCI School of Medicine are working on a pre-emptive strike -- a universal vaccine that can protect against all forms of the coronavirus.

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Many patients who initially experienced milder COVID-19 symptoms are now showing up at the doctor's office months later with debilitating problems. They're being called "long-haulers."

"It is also the vaccine that is targeting the viruses that are not here yet," he said.

How can it do that? Researchers explained the current vaccines go after the spike protein specifically, creating an immune response to prevent it from attaching to cells. But this new vaccine also targets other proteins.

"Our vaccine blocks the spike protein plus ten other proteins that are identified," BenMohamed said.

Early trials have produced promising results. UCI researchers expect to begin testing the first pan-coronavirus vaccine in humans as early as this summer. Another advantage of a universal vaccine? It can also protect against virus variants.

"This is a way to get ahead of the variants and the mutation because there are likely to be other variants that are going to show up somewhere else," he said.

Researchers say the goal would be to have this universal vaccine prepared and ready to ship to wherever the next coronavirus appears.
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