As the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus continues, with countries facing lockdowns and hospitals dealing with unprecedented demand, a research team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is working around the clock on a new vaccine, the school announced Saturday.
The team is also looking at isolating the human antibodies that can successfully fight the viral infection in order to create working therapeutic treatments to improve recovery times for COVID-19 patients, according to researchers.
The research is led by Prof. Pin Wang, Zohrab A. Kaprielian Fellow in Engineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering. Wang’s lab specializes in the emerging field of immunobioengineering, which uses engineering tools to better understand the immune system and develop novel molecular and cellular immunotherapies.
To create the vaccine, Wang and his team have engineered a hybrid virus, the core of which is based on that of the vesicular stomatitis virus; a family of viruses which includes rabies among others. The surface of the hybrid virus is then covered with spike proteins derived from the COVID-19 virus.
“The reason that this hybrid virus can be a good vaccine format is that by having the COVID-19 surface protein, this can hopefully trick our immune system into recognizing it,” Wang said. “That way we can induce the neutralizing antibody to stop the virus from infecting us in future.”
Wang said the team is “hoping we’ll have a very potent product compared to other vaccine platforms.”
This type of vaccine is known as a vectored vaccine and does not contain the harmful components of original viruses, and thus has safety benefits as opposed to vaccine forms using live-attenuated viruses, he said.
Wang said the vaccine research was also looking into ways in which cells’ immune response works to combat the virus so that this process can be replicated in the development of therapeutics to manage COVID-19.
“If we can immunize animals like mice, then we can isolate the B cells that can generate antibodies; antibodies that can neutralize the virus,” Wang said.