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One-shot Deal

NIH Grant Funds Research on Single Vaccine for Hundreds of Viruses

By Samantha Watters

Poliovirus illustration

Illustration by Shutterstock

A new approach to creating vaccines could make a single drug capable of fighting hundreds of enteroviruses, including the poliovirus, depicted here.

A new grant from the National Institutes of Health is advancing University of Maryland research to develop a novel approach to vaccination—one that has the potential to provide broad-spectrum protection in a single vaccine that could knock out hundreds of viruses, from polio to the common cold.

The study led by George Belov, associate professor of veterinary medicine, focuses on enteroviruses. It’s  a diverse group that includes pathogens with major public health implications: the poliovirus, rhinoviruses that are the major cause of the common cold, enterovirus 71 that causes hand, foot and mouth disease in children, and others that are associated with the development of diabetes, like coxsackieviruses.

Currently, only polio and enterovirus 71 have vaccines, but changing the way vaccines are developed—targeting proteins that are common among most enteroviruses instead of the current method of targeting a virus’s distinct proteins—will allow the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers to explore the potential of a major advance for public health.

It comes down to focusing on the right part of the virus, Belov said.

“All viruses are pretty much like a nut,” he said. “You have the shell or husk, and then the material inside the husk. On the outside, the structural proteins look sufficiently different so that that immune response developed against one virus does not work against another. But inside, you have pretty much the same core of proteins the virus uses to replicate.”

The technology to target that core has only recently become available with new constructs that Belov and his team developed to redirect the immune response when encountering a new virus. It removes the input of the “shell,” or outer structural proteins, and presents the immune system with only the “interior,” or the antigens that come from the conserved replication proteins, Belov said.

Working with researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Vaccines Research and Review, Belov and his team will compare this new vaccine approach to the existing vaccination products for poliovirus. If the project funded by the roughly $500,000 proof-of-concept grant is successful, it could represent a fundamental shift in the way that vaccines are produced, while significantly simplifying vaccination for the public, as well as addressing concerns about the growing number of necessary vaccines.

“The risk is very low as a whole, but there is no absolutely risk-free product, and there are always people that will respond differently” to a given vaccination, Belov said. “So if you can protect against multiple viruses in the same product, that is a very desirable thing.”

This problem Belov is addressing covers vaccine development beyond just the enteroviruses, crossing all forms of vaccine development, including those aimed at stopping the current pandemic,  he said.

“If you want to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, for example, you currently have to make something that is specific to the structural proteins of COVID-19,” Belov said. “But if you could make something that is effective across all types of coronaviruses by targeting the replication proteins, you could protect against a large spectrum of coronaviruses—the ones that we know of now and the ones that may come down the road as new virus threats.”






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