UT research paves way for significant development in creating COVID-19 vaccine

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Research from the McLellan Lab at the University of Texas at Austin has paved the way for some significant development in creating a vaccine for COVID-19.

When you look at an illustration of coronaviruses that the Centers of Disease Control released, you see spikes on a cell.

Those spikes attach to human cells.

That’s how the virus enters and infects your system.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (CDC via AP)

UT researchers told KXAN knowing the structure of those spikes is an important early step to developing an effective vaccine.

Ph.D. Candidate Daniel Wrapp works in the McLellan Lab said, “So if we are able to present the human immune system with a protein that looks just like the spike on the surface of the virus, it’s going to be able to raise an effective immune response so that when you come into contact with the real virus, you’ll be able to fight it off without getting sick.”

In February, the UT researchers created a 3D model of the spikes, providing a roadmap to companies like Moderna that can actually develop and test vaccine candidates.

“Creating a vaccine is such an enormous process that typically one lab can’t specialize in all the different things that go into vaccine development,” Wrapp explained. “So we are sort of at the very front end, the very like fundamental biological end. And then we’re able to give our results to people who can then make it a more translational product that actually is going to end up going into people.”

Wrapp said Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, has “taken genetic information that encodes for our stabilized variant, and that’s what they’re using as their vaccine candidate.”

According to the website, Moderna started testing its vaccine candidate in people earlier this year. They’re now getting ready for Phase 2. A news release on its website said it intends to test 600 people.

This week, the company said it also received the Food and Drug Administration’s Fast Track designation, which helps to expedite the development process.

Friday, President Donald Trump announced a program to make COVID-19 vaccines available as quickly as possible. The person leading what he’s calling Operation Warp Speed was Moderna’s board member.

The company said Friday Dr. Moncef Slaoui resigned from the board and that it congratulates him on his new role.

Slaoui said at Friday’s press conference with Trump, “I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine. And these data made me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020.”

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