Moving closer to a new, more universal vaccine


At the Rega Institute (KU Leuven), virologists are continuing their research into a new, more effective type of vaccine against the various coronavirus variants.

At the end of 2020, Johan Neyts and his team of virologists were on the verge of succeeding in their research, with an excellent chance of proposing a coronavirus vaccine if the clinical phase could be financed. But they were overtaken in this unprecedented race against the pandemic by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna.

But the researchers at the Rega Institute of KU Leuven continued their work as the virus mutated over the months, calling into question the effectiveness of the existing vaccines against the new variants (Alpha, Delta and now Omicron).

This work is based on a live attenuated yellow fever vaccine. In practical terms, Professor Neyts' team started from the premise that it is possible to insert into the genetic code of the yellow fever vaccine not only the code of the protein that allows coronavirus to bind to human cells, but also pieces of the genetic code of other viruses, such as the rabies virus and the Ebola virus.

Human clinical studies have not yet begun at this stage. But not a single virus particle could be found in the lungs of vaccinated hamsters. This new "universal" vaccine should therefore protect against the main known variants.

There is no doubt that the fight against coronavirus(es) will remain a major concern in the years to come. But our researchers remain on the front line of this struggle, as bearers of great hope.