Creating a Vaccine against COVID-19

UNM scientists apply their virus-like particles, which use interchangeable parts, to combat the virus that causes COVID-19

Newswise — David Peabody, PhD, and Bryce Chackerian, PhD, are creating vaccines from particles that are the opposite of Trojan Horses: they look deadly on the outside but are harmless on the inside.

The idea, says Peabody, is to trick the body into believing it’s been infected with a microscopic foe. The body’s reaction to the supposed infection prepares it for an assault by the real foe.

Scientists at The University of New Mexico, Peabody and Chackerian are using a one-year $250,000 grant to make a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 using the virus-like particles that they developed.

The spherical particles are produced by bacteria and can be made to look like anything dangerous: a parasite, a cancer cell, a virus. Peabody can genetically engineer the particles to display a part of the parasite’s, cell’s or virus’ surface proteins — the part is called an epitope — on the outside. The repeating epitope pattern incites the immune system to react strongly and form antibodies against the epitope.

Decorating the outside of virus-like particles with epitopes isn’t enough to ward off disease, though. Antibodies are as uniquely shaped as the epitopes to which they bind. Chackerian explains that not all antibodies will stop a virus.

“For viral vaccines, the goal is to produce neutralizing antibodies,” he says. “This is an antibody that can attach to the virus and then effectively prevent the virus from infecting a cell.”

To make a vaccine against COVID-19, Chackerian and Peabody are using knowledge of the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the respiratory disease.

Peabody summarizes, “We make a virus-like particle that displays on its surface bits of SARS-CoV-2. And if those bits of SARS-CoV-2 elicit antibodies that neutralize the virus, that’s a vaccine.”

Peabody and Chackerian say they can make vaccine candidates quickly and they have a system that can direct the immune system to respond to specific epitopes. Previously, their virus-like particles have been used to make vaccines to target human papillomavirus, malaria, and even metastatic breast cancer cells.

“The goal,” says Chackerian, “would be to develop a vaccine that would develop strong and long-lasting responses to the parts of the virus that are critical for its function.”

Peabody and Chackerian don’t know the specific parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to target, but they can make educated guesses. In addition to the genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they have information about how people’s immune systems responded to a similar virus during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Peabody says that the two viruses are structurally similar enough that they likely share critical epitopes.

But each vaccine candidate will need to be tested for its ability to elicit antibodies that block virus entry into a cell. Testing requires time and a scientific team. Peabody and Chackerian’s team includes Steven Bradfute, PhD, at the UNM Center for Global Health, and Kathryn Frietze, PhD, and Alison Kell, PhD, at UNM’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

To make a pipeline of possible vaccines, Peabody and Frietze select potential epitope targets and engineer the virus-like particles. Chackerian vaccinates test animals and collects blood samples from them. He and Kell are also conducting studies to confirm that the vaccines actually bind to their intended cellular targets. And, Bradfute is testing blood samples from the animals to verify that their antibodies block infection.

This work and these tests take place before clinical trials. Once a vaccine candidate is successful in a clinical trial, though, Peabody and Chackerian plan to work with a partner and expect to produce large amounts of vaccine in a short time.

Clinical trials, however, can take years to ensure safety and efficacy. But Peabody and Chackerian see another advantage the virus-like particles can offer.

“We imagine a world in which there’s a platform technology that’s pre-approved for use [in humans], with interchangeable parts that you trade out to correspond to whatever threat you’re trying to address,” says Peabody. “[So] that adding another epitope from a different agent will be approved more quickly than if you have to start entirely from scratch.”

David Peabody, PhD, is a Professor in the Department Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the UNM School of Medicine and a member-at-large of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Bryce Chackerian, PhD, is a Professor and the Vice Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the UNM School of Medicine and a full member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health is supporting the research reported in this publication under Award Number P30CA118100-15S5. Principal Investigator: David Peabody, PhD. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. 

Filters close

Showing results

1120 of 2776
Released: 3-Aug-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Neutrolis Announces Development Of First-In-Class Treatment Targeting Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs) For Patients With Severe COVID-19

Novel Chromatinase™ platform could rapidly and systemically removes NETs associated with exacerbation of COVID-19

Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:55 AM EDT
American College of Radiology to Provide Image Coordination for National COVID-19 Observational Study
American College of Radiology (ACR)

The American College of Radiology® (ACR®) Center for Research and Innovation™ (CRI) will serve as the imaging coordination center for the multicenter COVID-19 Observational Study (CORAL) led by Dr. Catherine "Terri" L. Hough of the Oregon Health & Science University. The CORAL Study is part of the Prevention & Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury (PETAL) Network, a consortium of academic and affiliated hospitals across the United States – funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health – to conduct clinical trials in patients with or at risk for critical illness, including acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:35 AM EDT
Evaluating the effectiveness of travel bans
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

A new study sheds light on how COVID-19 spreads regionally and between countries, as well as on how effective governmental measures to curb the spread of the pandemic have been to date.

Newswise: Engineers developing no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan test for COVID-19, other outbreaks
Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:00 AM EDT
Engineers developing no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan test for COVID-19, other outbreaks
Iowa State University

Engineers are developing a no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan diagnostic sensing system that could be used to quickly test for COVID-19 or other outbreaks. The system would also produce a real-time outbreak map with demographic details.

Newswise: Atrium Health Tele-ICU Evolves to Meet COVID-19 Challenges
30-Jul-2020 1:55 PM EDT
Atrium Health Tele-ICU Evolves to Meet COVID-19 Challenges
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

Atrium Health’s tele-ICU quickly adjusted its patient-centered focus to include supporting and protecting bedside nurses caring for patients in isolation, as part of the system’s planning and preparations for the pandemic.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 5:05 PM EDT
Looking up to the Joneses: Consequences of the perceptions of white wealth
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Before the era of COVID-19, research suggested that premature deaths among white Americans were rising. Even before the era of COVID-19, these findings were surprising.

Newswise: 238996_web.jpg
Released: 31-Jul-2020 4:55 PM EDT
Pooling strategy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: A solution for mass population screening of SARS-CoV-2

In a report in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, published by Elsevier, researchers at Augusta University and PerkinElmer Genomics describe a cheaper, rapid, and accurate pooling strategy for the RT-PCR-based detection of SARS-CoV-2 in clinical samples.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 4:40 PM EDT
No racial disparities seen in response to remdesivir treatment of COVID-19
University of Chicago Medical Center

A new analysis by University of Chicago Medicine faculty, staff and collaborators around the world found remdesivir appears to be equally beneficial to patients regardless of race, supporting the need for early intervention and aggressive care for all patients in the fight against COVID-19.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 3:50 PM EDT
SARS-CoV-2 screening strategies for safe reopening of college campuses
JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association

What The Study Did: This study defines the screening performance standards for SARS-CoV-2 tests that would permit the safe return of students to U.S. residential college campuses this fall. Authors: A. David Paltiel, Ph.D., of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, is the corresponding author. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this link (doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.16818) Editor's Note: The article includes funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, conflict of interest and financial disclosures, and funding and support. ### Media advisory: The full study and commentary are linked to this news release. Embed this link to provide your readers free access to the full-text article This link will be live at the embargo time

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 4-Aug-2020 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 31-Jul-2020 3:15 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 4-Aug-2020 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Showing results

1120 of 2776