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Taiwan's new vaccine could be effective against COVID-19 variants

Academia Sinica scientists say vaccine 2.7 times better than others against Alpha variant

British doctor administers COVID-19 vaccine. 

British doctor administers COVID-19 vaccine.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A new vaccine developed by Taiwan's top research institute is said to be 2.7 times more effective than other WHO-approved coronavirus vaccines against the COVID-19 Alpha variant first noted in the U.K.

With COVID still raging a year and a half after it first came to the world's attention, a number of vaccines have been developed to tame it. However, emerging variants of the virus around the world are complicating vaccination programs.

As of June 4, more than 170 million people have been infected by COVID, and there have been 3.5 million deaths.

Led by scientists from Academia Sinica, the Taiwanese research team ran a massive genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 virus strains and discovered that more than 1,000 out of a string of 1,273 amino acids from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can easily mutate — including the highly transmissible Alpha and Beta strains.

The mutations are thought to weaken antibodies that neutralize the virus, even after vaccination. This creates a problem for the development of effective vaccines and possible herd immunity.

The team discovered that a stronger immune response can be stimulated on the mutational sites of the protein.

A professor at Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center, Alex Ma (馬徹), an influenza expert, said the team came up with a solution for dealing with variants because of previous work manufacturing universal flu vaccines.

"Removal of unnecessary glycans from the spike protein to better expose the highly conserved sequences is an effective approach in developing broadly protective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and variants," Ma commented.

The team said the newly developed universal coronavirus vaccine has elicited a stronger immune response in mice and Syrian hamsters at multiple labs, offering better protection against the known variants, such as the dominant D614G mutant, Alpha strain (B.1.1.7), and Beta strain (B.1.351).

Ma added that the vaccine produced 2.7 times more neutralizing antibodies against the Alpha variant than other vaccines.

The research was led by former Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠), who is an acclaimed biochemist. The study can be found online at BioRxiv, and the team has filed a provisional patent application in the U.S.

Updated : 2021-06-23 22:13 GMT+08:00