HKUST scientists shed light on COVID-19 vaccine development

A team of scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has recently made an important discovery in identifying a set of potential vaccine targets for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, providing crucial leads for guiding experimental efforts towards the vaccine development against the novel pneumonia (COVID-19) caused by the virus.

Like SARS-CoV, which caused the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003, SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the same Betacoronavirus genus. By considering the genetic similarity between SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV, the team leveraged experimentally-determined immunological data to identify a set of SARS-CoV- derived B cell and T cell epitopes that exactly match to SARS-CoV-2. Epitopes are biomarkers recognized by the immune system to trigger actions against the virus. As no mutation has been observed in the identified epitopes among the available SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences, immune targeting of these epitopes may potentially offer protection against the novel pneumonia COVID-19.

The team, led by data scientists Prof. Matthew McKay and Dr. Ahmed Abdul Quadeer, expected that their work can assist in guiding experimental research towards the development of effective vaccines against SARS- CoV-2.

Prof. McKay highlighted that "Despite similarities between SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, there is genetic variation between the two, and it is not obvious if epitopes that elicit an immune response against SARS-CoV will likely be effective against SARS-CoV-2. We found that only roughly 20% of the SARS-CoV epitopes map identically to SARS-CoV-2, and believe these are promising candidates."

"For the identified T cell epitopes, we also performed a population coverage analysis and determined a set of epitopes that is estimated to provide broad coverage globally as well as in China" said Dr. Quadeer. The estimated population coverage represents the percentage of individuals within the selected population that are likely to elicit an immune response to at least one epitope from the identified set.

Prof. McKay is a Professor in the Departments of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Chemical & Biological Engineering; Dr. Quadeer is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Electronic & Computer Engineering. Their findings were recently published in the scientific journal Viruses this month.

"Our objective was to try to assist with the initial phase of vaccine development, by providing recommendations of specific epitopes that may potentially be considered for incorporation in vaccine designs" Prof. McKay added. "More generally, our work is part of a global effort seeking to capitalize on data for COVID-19, made available and rapidly shared by the scientific community, to understand this new virus and come up with effective interventions."

The beginning of 2020 has seen the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in mainland China, which has quickly spread to over 30 countries around the world, infecting over 80,000 people and causing over 2,600 deaths as of late February 2020.

Ahmed SF, Quadeer AA, McKay MR.
Preliminary Identification of Potential Vaccine Targets for the COVID-19 Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Based on SARS-CoV Immunological Studies.
Viruses 2020, 12, 254. doi: 10.3390/v12030254.

Most Popular Now

SK bioscience and GSK start Phase 3 trial of adjuv…

SK bioscience (SK) and GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) today announced the initiation of a Phase 3 clinical study of SK's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, GBP510, in combination wit...

Blood vessels produce growth factor that promotes …

Blood vessels supply tumors with nutrients and, on the other hand, enable cancer cells to spread throughout the body. The settlement of circulating tumor cells in a dista...

No serious health effects linked to mRNA COVID-19 …

Federal and Kaiser Permanente researchers combing the health records of 6.2 million patients found no serious health effects that could be linked to the 2 mRNA COVID-19 v...

First-in-human clinical trial for a vaccine to tre…

The first patients have been enrolled in a phase 1 randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial to study a therapeutic vaccine for opioid use disorder developed by resear...

New study examines 'Achilles heel' of cancer tumou…

Researchers at the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine and BC Cancer Research Institute have uncovered a weakness in a key enzyme that solid tumour cance...

AI algorithm solves structural biology challenges

Determining the 3D shapes of biological molecules is one of the hardest problems in modern biology and medical discovery. Companies and research institutions often spend ...

A drug costing less than €2 a day helps in the tre…

Metoprolol, a drug widely used to treat cardiovascular disease, is beneficial when administered to COVID-19patients. This is the finding of a study by investigators at th...

Sandoz strengthens pipeline by entering into agree…

Sandoz, a Novartis division, today announced that it has entered into a commercialization agreement with Bio-Thera Solutions, Ltd. for biosimilar bevacizumab (BAT1706). B...

Pfizer and BioNTech submit a variation to EMA with…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and BioNTech SE (Nasdaq: BNTX) announced that they submitted a variation to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) requesting to update the Condition...

Rheumatoid arthritis treated with implanted cells …

With a goal of developing rheumatoid arthritis therapies with minimal side effects, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have genetically ...

One in three Americans had COVID-19 by the end of …

A new study published in the journal Nature estimates that 103 million Americans, or 31 percent of the U.S. population, had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 by the end of 20...

NIH scientists build a cellular blueprint of multi…

Chronic lesions with inflamed rims, or "smoldering" plaques, in the brains of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have been linked to more aggressive and disabling forms ...