Washington: A team of scientists jostled for a view of the lab dish, staring impatiently for the first clue that an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus just might work.
After weeks of round-the-clock research at the National institute of health, it was time for a key test. If the vaccine revs up the immune system, the samples in that dish blood drawn from immunized mice would change color.
Minutes ticked by, and finally they started glowing blue.
“Especially at moments like this, everyone crowds around,” said Kizzmekia Corbett, an NIH research fellow leading the vaccine development. When her team sent word of the positive results, “it was absolutely amazing.”
Some researchers even aim for temporary vaccines, such as shots that might guard people’s health a month or two at a time while longer-lasting protection is developed.
The coronavirus is studded with a protein aptly named “spike” that lets the virus burrow into human cells, if that protein is blocked people won’t get infected and that makes “spike” the target of most vaccine research.
Not so long ago, scientists would have had to grow the virus itself to create a vaccine.
The NIH is using a new method that skips that step. researchers instead copy the section of the virus’ genetic code that contains the instructions for cells to create the spike protein, and let the body become a mini-factory.
Regeneron pharmaceuticals developed this “monoclonal antibody” approach as a life-saving treatment for Ebola. last year, it performed a successful safety test of experimental antibodies designed to fight Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).