Multiple battles are being fought in the war against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Currently, there are nearly 3,000 clinical trials listed in the World Health Organization (WHO) database, either underway or in the recruiting stage, for vaccines and antiviral drugs. Two recent announcements of data from phase 3 vaccine trials, by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have offered some hope for global efforts to fight the pandemic. At the time of writing, Pfizer and BioNTech had submitted an application for emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Moderna had planned to do so shortly.
Both vaccines are mRNA-based, as opposed to most conventional vaccines against established diseases that are protein-based. Typically, the key ingredient in viral vaccines is either part of an inactivated virus, or one or more expressed proteins (antigens) that are a part of the virus. These protein antigens are responsible for eliciting an immune response that will fight future infection by the actual virus. Another approach is to use a replication-deficient viral vector (such as adenovirus) to deliver the gene encoding the antigen into human cells. This method was used for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca; phase 3 interim data were announced on the heels of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announcements. All three vaccines target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, because it is the key that unlocks a path of entry into the host cell.
At the time that I’m writing this, I still haven’t succumbed to the “yuck” that’s been knocking out my co-workers one-by-one since November. Those of us who are still healthy were discussing how we fortify our immune systems in preparation for the flu season. All of the suggestions were pretty typical—orange juice, Vitamin C supplements, and of course, the the annual flu shot.
Ebola virus has received a lot of press in the last year due to the extended epidemic outbreak in Africa. Ebola is part of the family of Filioviruses (filamentous virus) and causes hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal bleeding and loss of bodily fluids. As the epidemic in Africa has illustrated so starkly, once the virus infects a large enough population, the human suffering it causes is devastating to individuals and communities. Because no treatment other than palliative fluid support is available to those infected by Ebola virus, virologists have focused attention on potential therapeutics and vaccines. The vaccine strategies now in clinical trials are based on a single Ebola virus glycoprotein, GP, and involve a DNA-based vaccine or innoculation with an Ebola protein expressed from a viral vector. How effective and safe this approach may be for protection from Ebola virus infection is currently under investigation.
Based on the history of effective vaccines, Marzi et al. was interested in testing a whole-virus vaccine for Ebola (EBOV). A whole-virus-based vaccine like smallpox or measles uses an attenuated or inactivated virus. The advantage of this method is that all the proteins as well as the nucleic acid are available for immunological reaction, offering broader-based protection than a single protein. In the recently published Science report from Marzi et al., a replication-incompetent Ebola virus was used as the basis for a whole-virus vaccine that was tested for its efficacy in nonhuman primates. Continue reading “Could This be the Next Generation Ebola Virus Vaccine?”
Earlier this year, the state of Wisconsin considered adding Lactococcus lactis as the state microbe. Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, and L. lactis is part of the cheese-making process. While its run to become the state microbe was ultimately unsuccessful, I wanted to learn more about the L. lactis bacterium. A quick search through PubMed yielded an intriguing paper by Lei et al., and it had nothing to do with converting milk to cheese. Continue reading “What do Cheese and H5N1 Have in Common?”
I’m a microbiologist. I wash my hands often, I don’t eat canned green beans or any home-canned food (due to a horrible botulism example given in a bacteriology class), I don’t ask for antibiotics if I just have a cold, and I believe in vaccination programs.
Recently, due to the various controversies surrounding the H1N1 vaccine, and because I just gave permission for my children to be vaccinated at school, I have been thinking about vaccination rather a lot. Even though I believe absolutely in the benefits of vaccination, I also have the usual concerns when considering whether to accept a new vaccine for my children. So, when I read or hear sensational press coverage over emphasizing vaccination risks, I worry, and I want to hear a balanced viewpoint.
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