A single dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 developed by the Rega Institute of the University of Leuven (Belgium), based on the yellow fever vaccine, it could protect for life, according to what the head of the center, Johan Neyts, and the Spanish researcher Lorena Sánchez Felipe explain to Efe. In addition to the promising vaccine, the team is trying to find effective treatments against SARS-Cov-2 and other viruses.
Sánchez Felipe and Neyts receive Efe at the entrance of a modern building that houses a unique automated laboratory of its kind where, as “looking for a needle in a haystack”In recent months, 1.7 million substances have been analyzed to see if they reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Only Spanish in the team
“I’ve been working here for four years (…) in the vaccine group. My main job is the design, the discovery of new vaccines. I take care of all the part of molecular biology related to them, “says the scientist, who studied Biology and Biochemistry in Salamanca before doing a post-doctorate at the Albany Medical Center (New York), where she spent three and a half years researching the virus of Hepatitis C.
The researcher explains that she has been actively involved in the design of the Rega Institute’s coronavirus vaccine. “From the moment we started working, I quickly made the designs based on the knowledge we already had of other vaccines,” in particular the yellow fever vaccine, he says.
“We have made an incredible effort. We have joined several teams working on different parts that were necessary to try to create the vaccine as soon as possible “, explains the expert. He assures that all of them have been “practically working day and night, from Monday to Sunday, since it started.”
The devastating effects of the virus have meant that “if you are already motivated, now the motivation is even greater to get something that can stop this “, Add.
The Rega Institute team is confident that the vaccine be authorized in 2022, after tests carried out on hamsters, which have yielded very good results and which must be completed with human trials.
A double protection vaccine
The new technique used by this team of researchers consists of use the genetic code of the yellow fever vaccine virus as a vector (carrier) of the spine protein of Covid-19 to achieve an “efficient” protective response against both viruses at the same time, Neyts explains to EFE.
The reason why the yellow fever vaccine has been used, he adds, is that “It is 82 years old, it has been used in 800 million people, especially in endemic regions (…) and a single dose acts quickly, providing lasting protection “.
This potential vaccine is the Institute’s greatest bet at this time, which started to develop it in early 2020, after teams from China and Australia posted the virus’ genetic code online. “Two weeks later we started designing it,” explains the Belgian expert.
“The advantage of our vaccine is that it also helps in places where yellow fever is endemic”
“We have seen that our vaccine is very effective in hamsters, a single dose fully protects them in just ten days against SARS-Cov-2 infection,” he adds. Compared to the two vaccines that are already authorized in the European Union, that of Pfizer / BionTech and Moderna, “The advantage of our vaccine is that it also helps in places where yellow fever is endemic, like Latin America and Africa, that can be a bonus. “
Further, can be stored at 5 degrees, “quite possibly it will have long-term protection” and will also protect against yellow fever.
Following animal studies, human trials are scheduled to begin next fall. “It may seem late compared to Pfizer and others but we are a smaller team, with a different budget “, Neyts adds, and specifies that if all goes well, they trust that the vaccine will receive an authorization in 2022.
The laboratory now operates with the Dutch company Batavia Biosciences to manufacture the vaccine in large quantities and to be able to carry out the trials in volunteers. “We are a small academic laboratory, we cannot produce a vaccine in the quantity that is needed to carry out clinical trialsWe are working with a company in the Netherlands, which is producing the vaccine for these tests, “explains Sánchez Felipe.
The recipients pThey will be both the population of Europe and the United States to which another vaccine has already been administered before and has to be vaccinated again, such as “countries where yellow fever is endemic or in Asia, where the mosquito that transmits it is also found in some areas and could create epidemics”, Neyts points out.
Both Sánchez Felipe and Neyts insist that two types of weapons are needed to combat SARS-COV-2: the vaccine and antiviral drugs. “It is important to have some medicine to be able to use because vaccinations take a while. Here we cover both aspects, “she says.
Unlike other viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis B or C “We do not have drugs against SARS-Cov-2” notes Professor Neyts, who underlines the need not only to work in this area now but to prepare for the emergence of new viruses in the future.
“Let’s imagine that in the first weeks in China we would have had medicines (…) medical personnel, families, contacts, and medical personnel could have been treated. possibly that could have helped control the outbreak and allow time to control the spread, “says this expert.
Considers that what happened during the pandemic should serve the world of “lesson for the future”. “We must find drugs for the coronavirus but also for other viruses,” says the virologist, who does not believe that Covid-19 can be eradicated but that “we will possibly attenuate it and it will remain as a kind of influenza virus that we see in winter “.
“Billions of dollars and euros are invested in Defense (…) and we are not protected against the virus, this would cost nothing in comparison, is the lesson. We must be prepared for the unexpected, developing drugs takes years “, concludes the professor.