Coronavirus Florida: South Florida scientists think they’ve found effective vaccine option
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JUPITER — Scientists at Scripps Research Institute think they’re onto something big.
Some of the latest research coming out of Scripps’ Jupiter campus could lead to a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, researchers there say.
The findings are still preliminary and have yet to be published, but one member of the research team is expected to update the public on the project and similar efforts during a webinar Scripps will host Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Scripps officials were not available Tuesday to discuss their findings. But Michael Farzan, a professor who co-chairs Scripps’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology and who is among the scientists working on various coronavirus-related projects at Scripps Florida, is expected to address the research during Wednesday’s web lecture.
The webinar, part of the regular Front Row lecture series by Scripps, will be limited to 3,000 attendees. Those hoping to attend can register for free at scripps.edu.
In their research, Farzan, other Scripps scientists and experts from elsewhere in the U.S. and China collaborated to simulate a hallmark of the coronavirus in lab rats.
They injected four rodents with doses that included amino acids found on the spikes seen on the now-ubiquitous images of the coronavirus.
The amino acid collection, called receptor-binding domain, or RBD, was shown to help trigger the “robust” production of neutralizing antibodies, researchers wrote.
Antibodies are part of the immune response that helps the human body recover from COVID-19 and other ailments. Their presence, many scientists hope, suggests that a person will have immunity from the coronavirus — at least for that wave of infection.
“These data suggest that an RBD-based vaccine for (the coronavirus) could be safe and effective,” researchers wrote in a draft abstract. The preliminary findings were posted April 12 on Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s website for unpublished life science preprints.
The RBD-based vaccine also seems to come with a smaller threat of one specific side-effect found in Zika and dengue fever vaccines that can actually ease how viruses penetrate cells, researchers wrote.
Government leaders of many stripes— from U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel to President Donald Trump to Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees — view the development, production and distribution of a vaccine as central in the effort to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But by a number of estimates, scientists are months away from developing a vaccine. And whatever vaccine is developed must undergo rigorous testing.
In early March, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said it could be at least 18 months until a coronavirus vaccine is publicly available. Trump offered a similar timeline on April 4.
A chief concern, Fauci said in March, was that “you really need to know that it actually works” because the vaccine will be administered to otherwise healthy individuals.