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University Where Polio Vaccine Was Created Says They Have Potential Vaccine For Coronavirus
Cathedral of Learning in the morning, University of Pittsburgh.
Photo presented by Zolashine/GettyImages

On Thursday, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, announced they have created a potential vaccine for the coronavirus.

Researchers gave the vaccine to mice through a patch in the skin, and say not only that the vaccine proved effective, but that producing similar patches with a vaccine for humans is scalable and can be produced in large quantities, according to KDKA radio, which notes, “It is the first study to be published after it was critiqued by other scientists ‘at outside institutions that describes a candidate vaccine for COVID-19.’”

Co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, M.D, who is an associate professor of surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine, stated, “We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus. That’s why it’s important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from.”

Co-senior author Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC, echoed, “Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal.”

In the paper describing their work, the authors, who are waiting for approval from the FDA to quickly start human trials, write:

Genomic analyses indicated that SARS-CoV-2 shares genomic similarities with SARS-CoV within the receptor-binding motif that directly contacts the human receptor ACE2. This has important implications for vaccine design and for predicting pandemic potential. Human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has now been established, and the situation with SARS-CoV-2 is evolving rapidly with the numbers of verified cases growing into the thousands.

Another recently emerged coronavirus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was first isolated in 2012 in Saudi Arabia … For both these coronaviruses, the spike (S) protein is crucial for viral transmission and infection, and determines the tropism of the virus and host cell entry. SARS-CoV-2 binds the ACE2 receptor as MERS-S binds to the cellular receptor dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4) via the receptor-binding domain (RBD) in the N-terminal surface subunit (S1), and then employs its C-terminal transmembrane subunit (S2) to fuse with the host cell membrane. [

Due to this vital functional property and established antigenicity, the S protein is an important target for vaccine development. Our previous studies have shown that adenoviral vaccine candidates expressing SARS-CoV-S1 and MERS-S1 subunits induced more efficacious antibody-mediated neutralizing activity than full-length S1, suggesting the subunit immunogen as an ideal vaccine candidate.

… The skin is an ideal target for immunization. It contains a rich population of antigen presenting and immune accessory cells capable of inducing a proinflammatory microenvironment favoring the induction of potent and durable adaptive immunity.

… Although the stability of each vaccine candidate in MNAs needs to be validated at different temperatures for varying storage periods, the available literature indicates that MNA-embedded vaccines have the potential to remain stable for an extended period of time without expensive “cold chain” requirements. Further, previous animal and clinical studies suggest that MNAs could provide a safe and well-tolerated delivery platform for efficacious immunization strategies.

… Driven by the promising immunogenicity of MNA-MERS-S1 vaccines and the urgent need to respond to the recent coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), we rapidly (within 4 weeks of the identification of the SARS-CoV-2 S1 sequence) designed and produced MNA SARS-CoV-2 S1 vaccines and tested their immunogenicity in mice. We describe the rapid development of MNA embedded SARS-CoV-2-S1 subunit vaccines using clinically-applicable MNA production methods by relying on our experience with clinical trials utilizing MNA delivery. Taken together, our results support the development of MNA delivered recombinant coronavirus vaccines for clinical applications.

… Taken together, our studies demonstrate the speed at which vaccines against emerging infections can be designed and produced using the recent advances in recombinant DNA technology. Combining emerging biotechnology methods with bioengineering advances in vaccine delivery strategies, it may now be possible to rapidly produce clinically-translatable vaccines against novel pathogens for human testing and subsequent global distribution in time to significantly impact the spread of disease.

The University of Pittsburgh writes of Salk:

In 1947, the University of Pittsburgh recruited Jonas Salk—an expert in influenza whose flu vaccine is still in use today—to develop a virus program at Pitt. For more than seven years, his team worked tirelessly to develop an effective killed-virus vaccine … The efforts of Pitt’s polio research team culminated in the largest national controlled field trial in history. At the trial’s successful conclusion, the federal government approved the vaccine for the public on April 12, 1955, an action that Newsweek called “a summit moment in history.”


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