Researchers at UW School of Medicine work to create universal vaccine for coronaviruses

SEATTLE — As the world struggles to survive the coronavirus pandemic, researchers are already working to prevent the next one. Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine want to create a universal vaccine that protects against many coronaviruses.

That path starts with developing a vaccine for COVID-19 that is stable at room temperature. That vaccine is already in a Phase 3 clinical trial.

“One of the reasons we’re able to move so fast in this pandemic is due to the work we, and others, were doing before the pandemic. And here we see that the continued emergence of variants seems to be threatening our exit from this pandemic,” said Dr. David Veesler, a biochemist at the UW School of Medicine.

Veesler’s lab is testing an experimental vaccine that would cover SARS-COVID viruses. He says it would give broader immunity and would not require reformulation for each variant.

“Making a vaccine that will protect against these two viruses, as well as all their closely-related cousins, will be a great step forward, and we are working on that,” said Veesler.

They are now testing the experimental vaccine in mice, and Veesler says it is showing success. The next big leap forward is a universal vaccine for many coronaviruses, which will be complex.

“There is a lot to learn about other coronaviruses before being able to make such vaccines,” cautioned Veesler.

The COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by variants, has killed more than 700,000 Americans, and 4.5 million people worldwide. These scientists want to stay ahead of what could be the next threat to the world, but finding a universal vaccine will take time.

“That’s not yet within reach, because we don’t yet know how to do that. We need to understand what type of antibodies can neutralize all of these coronaviruses,” explained Veesler.

The researchers at the University of Washington are just one out of twenty groups around the world currently working on a universal vaccine.