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Development of a variant-proof COVID19 mRNA vaccine

Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Grant:
  • RNA Future Leaders Program
Date Funded:
  • 3 August, 2021
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Dr. Deborah Burnett

Project Summary

This project aims to develop a next generation vaccine able to prevent infection from all future variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID19.

The main researcher for this project is Dr Deborah Burnett.

What is the issue for NSW?

The majority of COVID19 vaccine induced antibodies produced by current vaccines target highly “variable” sites that the virus can easily mutate. As a result, the antibodies produced by current vaccines are significantly less effective against emerging variants of the virus and there remains an ongoing need to continually update vaccines to protect against new strains. This strategy of constantly playing “catch up” and formulating vaccines reactively poses the risk that the virus will mutate faster than health strategies can react to.

Anticipating this problem, Dr Deborah Burnett has brought together advanced technologies and world-leaders across NSW research institutes. They will tackle the problem of how to expose the immune system to viral targets so that most of the protective antibodies target parts of the virus that cannot mutate. This would produce antibodies that remain effective against emerging variants of COVID19.

What does the research aim to do and how?

Dr Deborah Burnett has identified immunisation strategies, using elements of related coronaviruses, that focus antibodies on key sites of vulnerability that the virus cannot afford to change. Her team is developing several of these promising target designs into real world mRNA vaccines. These candidates will be tested in sophisticated mouse models and assessed for their ability to protect against all variants of COVID19. Her findings may also cover distantly related viruses and could prevent future outbreaks from even occurring.