Bay Area researchers developing COVID vaccine to protect against future variants

A Bay Area laboratory is helping come up with the technology that could make worldwide pandemics far easier and quicker to defeat. 

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which assures the safety, security, and reliability of America's nuclear weapons, is working to develop a vaccine to protect against future mutations.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) partnered up with UK biotech company ConserV Bioscience to create a universal coronavirus vaccine. 

ConserV Bioscience’s expertise is in identifying substances that can induce an immune response in the body, substances called antigens. 

"Our collaborators in the UK, they have a bio-informatic pipeline in which they can identify those parts of a virus, for example, that should go into the vaccine formulation," said Nicholas Fischer, an LLNL biomedical scientist. 

Such a vaccine could immunize people from a wide range of coronaviruses including, but not limited to COVID, MERS, and SARS whether from humans or animals. 

"It will have the necessary pieces to protect against a very broad, broad family of viruses," said Fischer.

Though coronaviruses are not identical, they do have common components that are identical and can be exploited to fight virus mutations and even ones not yet encountered. 

"Then the protection would be against anything that's in that family, even those types of viruses that we do not know," said Fischer.

Lawrence Livermore National Lab's expertise is in creating an organic delivery system, a kind of protective wrapping of the antigens, to get the vaccine into the body. 

"It's just a huge moment, I think in science right now," said LLNL biomedical scientist Amy Rasley.

The two components of the virus will be combined before injection. Eventually, both components would be freeze-dried to avoid super cold storage and transport problems. 

"The ideal scenario would be to have those components separate and stable at room temperature," said Rasley.

This technology is applicable to other viruses and bacteria. It can also be quickly developed like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

"It's incredible to really think about how these vaccines were able to be manufactured and come to be used in the general population as fast as they did," said Rasley. 

Researchers said more effective universal vaccines could treat most strains of the flu and other pathogens that have plagued the world for generations.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Nicholas Fischer's last name. We regret the error.