The Center has invested in developing a specific vaccine to help counter the evolving nature of the coronavirus. The Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science is working towards creating an ecosystem for rapid development of Covid vaccines targeting the dominant variant.
An official in the know who helped build this ecosystem to develop a second-generation vaccine told India Today that research and development work to develop a strain-specific vaccine is underway in India.
“Five pharmaceutical companies have joined hands with R&D academic institutions to prepare the country for any new concern,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The project involves the collaboration of academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers to develop a bivalent vaccine.
What are bivalent vaccines?
Current vaccines used in India and abroad are monovalent, meaning they target a specific variant of the virus – the original coronavirus. A bivalent vaccine would target specific spike mutations found in Omicron strains, which have been mutated multiple times to produce sub-variants and second-generation variants.
The bivalent vaccine elicits an immune response against two different antigens and is therefore more targeted in the context of the fifth variant of concern, Omiran, which caused the highest number of breakthrough infections.
Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech are already working on specific vaccines. SII has collaborated with Nonavax. Bharat Biotech, CEPI- Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is working to develop a different preventive vaccine.
“We hope to overcome this problem using second-generation vaccines,” the official said.
Speaking to India Today, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, Vice-President, Research Unit, IMA, Kochi, said that existing vaccines continue to protect against severe disease and death, but are not contagious given the mutated versions of the virus now circulating.
“All current vaccines are based on an ancestral strain of the virus. Most of them are based on only a part of the virus called the spike protein. But over the past two and a half years, we’ve seen the virus continue to make changes to its spike protein, an apparent attempt to evade the human immune response and spread more efficiently. “Changes, also called mutations, can occur gradually or in leaps and bounds,” he said.
“Preliminary research on Omicron-based vaccines has not revealed a major advantage over the ancestral strain. Several versions are being tested and have been shown to generate a better antibody response than the old vaccine. However, we do not have the exact correlation to guarantee a certain level,” he added.
He added that there are concerns that these vaccines will still be valid when the next variant comes out. It may or may not have similarities to Omicron.
PAN SARBECOVIRUS VACCINE STILL POSSIBLE?
Jayadevan said it is feasible and effective to develop a pan-sarbecovirus vaccine that protects against all coronaviruses. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice on covid vaccine research suggests that a surbecovirus vaccine should be developed as new coronaviruses are likely to emerge, and CEPI’s work indicates that they are working well. A spike like N should be attached.
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