One coronavirus vaccine may protect against other coronaviruses

Northwestern Medicine scientists have shown for the first time that coronavirus vaccines and prior coronavirus infections can provide broad immunity against other, similar coronaviruses. The findings build a rationale for universal coronavirus vaccines that could prove useful in the face of future epidemics.

"Until our study, what hasn't been clear is if you get exposed to one coronavirus, could you have cross-protection across other coronaviruses? And we showed that is the case," said lead author Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, assistant professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

A breakdown of coronavirus families

The three main families of coronaviruses that cause human disease are Sarbecovirus, which includes the SARS-CoV-1 strain that was responsible for the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), as well as SARS-CoV-2, which is responsible for COVID-19; Embecovirus, which includes OC43, which is often responsible for the common cold; and Merbecovirus, which is the virus responsible for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first reported in 2012.

Vaccines demonstrated cross-protective immunity

Plasma from humans who had been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 produced antibodies that were cross-reactive (provided protection) against SARS-CoV-1 and the common cold coronavirus (OC43), the study found. The study also found mice immunized with a SARS-CoV-1 vaccine developed in 2004 generated immune responses that protected them from intranasal exposure by SARS-CoV-2. Lastly, the study found prior coronavirus infections can protect against subsequent infections with other coronaviruses.

Mice that had been immunized with COVID-19 vaccines and later were exposed to the common cold coronavirus (HCoV-OC43, which is different from a SARS strain) were partially protected against the common cold, but the protection was much less robust, the study found. The reason, the scientists explain, is because both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 are genetically similar - like cousins of one another - while the common cold coronavirus is more divergent from SARS-CoV-2.

"As long as the coronavirus is greater than 70% related, the mice were protected," Penaloza-MacMaster said. "If they were exposed to a very different family of coronaviruses, the vaccines might confer less protection."

Will there ever be one universal coronavirus vaccine?

Given how different each coronavirus family is, that answer is "likely no," said the study authors. But there may be a path forward for developing a vaccine for each coronavirus family (Sarbecovirus, Embecovirus and Merbecovirus), they said.

"Our study helps us re-evaluate the concept of a universal coronavirus vaccine," Penaloza-MacMaster said. "It's likely there isn’t one, but we might end up with a generic vaccine for each of the main families of coronaviruses, for example a universal Sarbecovirus vaccine for SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2 and other SARS-related coronaviruses; or a universal Embecovirus for HCoV-OC43 and HKU1 that cause common colds."

In the study, Penaloza-MacMaster collaborated with Northwestern Medicine physician Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of neuro-infectious disease and global neurology at Feinberg, and Lavanya Visvabharathy, a postdoctoral research associate in neurological manifestations of COVID-19 at Feinberg, to evaluate immune responses in humans who received SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, as well as in COVID-19 patients admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"We found that these individuals developed antibody responses that neutralized a common cold coronavirus, HCoV-OC43," Penaloza-MacMaster said. "We are now measuring how long this cross-protection lasts."

Years of HIV research led the team to this discovery

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Penaloza-MacMaster had studied HIV vaccines for a decade. His knowledge about how the HIV virus mutates led him to question cross-reactivity within coronavirus vaccines.

"A reason we don’t have an effective HIV vaccine is because it’s hard to develop cross-reactive antibodies," Penaloza-MacMaster said. "So, we thought, 'What if we tackle the problem of coronavirus variability (which is critical for developing universal coronavirus vaccines) the same way we’re tackling HIV vaccine development?'"

Dangi T, Palacio N, Sanchez S, Park M, Class J, Visvabharathy L, Ciucci T, Koralnik IJ, Richner JM, Penaloza-MacMaster P.
Cross-protective immunity following coronavirus vaccination and coronavirus infection.
J Clin Invest. 2021 Oct 8:e151969. doi: 10.1172/JCI151969

Most Popular Now

Novartis provides more than USD 25 million in medi…

Novartis announced that it condemns the war in Ukraine: "The continued acts of unprovoked violence are harming innocent people, and this defies our mission to improve hum...

Findings open way for personalised MS treatment

Currently available therapies to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) lack precision and can lead to serious side effects. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have no...

Pfizer and Biohaven's VYDURA® (rimegepant) granted…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company Ltd. (NYSE: BHVN) today announced that the European Commission (EC) has granted marketing authorizatio...

Pfizer shares top-line results from Phase 2/3 EPIC…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) shared top-line results from the Phase 2/3 EPIC-PEP (Evaluation of Protease Inhibition for COVID-19 in Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) study evaluating...

A smarter way to develop new drugs

Pharmaceutical companies are using artificial intelligence to streamline the process of discovering new medicines. Machine-learning models can propose new molecules that ...

Cognitive impairment from severe COVID-19 equivale…

Cognitive impairment as a result of severe COVID-19 is similar to that sustained between 50 and 70 years of age and is the equivalent to losing 10 IQ points, say a team o...

A new toolkit to engineer safe and efficient thera…

Therapies based on engineered immune cells have recently emerged as a promising approach in the treatment of cancer. Compared to traditional drugs, engineered immune cell...

SK bioscience and GSK's adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccin…

SK bioscience and GSK announced submission of a biologics license application for SKYCovione™ a recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate adjuvanted with GSK’s...

Foundation S: Sanofi's new philanthropic spearhead

Sanofi today launches Foundation S - The Sanofi Collective, its philanthropic endowment fund aiming to create healthier futures for generations. Using donations, partners...

Asthma drug can block crucial SARS-CoV-2 protein

A drug used to treat asthma and allergies can bind to and block a crucial protein produced by the virus SARS-CoV-2, and reduce viral replication in human immune cells, ac...

Investigational COVID mucosal vaccine protects aga…

In animal studies that mimic human exposures, an investigational COVID vaccine designed to be taken orally not only protects the host, but also decreases the airborne spr...

Using AI to analyze large amounts of biological da…

Researchers at the University of Missouri are applying a form of artificial intelligence (AI) - previously used to analyze how National Basketball Association (NBA) playe...