Bay Area researchers pursue flexible vaccine that can be adjusted to virus mutations

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While COVID-19 is by far the most widespread threat, it's also just the latest in a progression of dangerous viruses, including the deadly outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s, and another known as MERS that emerged first in the Middle East.

Now, Stanford Researcher Peter Kim, Ph.D., and his team are on the trail of a vaccine that's cheap and easily transportable.

"Our goal was to create a vaccine that was protein only, that would be a single shot vaccine and would be room temperature stable. And our hope is that such a vaccine could be used in lower-middle income countries," explains Kim.

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Before the outbreak, Kim's team had been focused on a vaccine for Ebola. The platform uses a delivery system known as nanoparticles, coupled with proteins. It's considered easier to produce than sophisticated virus-based vaccines, or the ultra-advanced mRNA formulas used by Pfizer and Moderna. And perhaps just as importantly, versatile.

"We certainly hope that we'll be able to adjust to mutations or new strains of coronavirus that come up in the future, by just piggy-backing on the technology we've already developed," Kim adds.

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The goal of a universal COVID-19 vaccine is also driving research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Researchers Nick Fischer, Ph.D. and Amy Rasley, Ph.D., are working with a nano-delivery system of their own, known as a nanolipoprotein. Along with partners in England, they believe it could help make a sophisticated vaccine similar to Pfizer and Moderna more stable and easier to transport.

"And we've modified these molecules because they're very tunable," explains Fischer.

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Potentially, it could turn them into a platform that's versatile enough to deliver vaccines aimed at a broad spectrum of COVID-19.

"And so, these kinds of vaccines, I think, are going to be absolutely critical going forward in providing us that kind of broad protection that we really need," Rasley said.

Protection, not just from the immediate threat, but perhaps far into the future.

The Kim Lab at Stanford is also receiving support from the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub.

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