Philadelphia scientists on quest to develop universal coronavirus vaccine

One doctor is hopeful the universal vaccine clinical trials will start potentially in about a year and a half.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Vaccines that are designed to target specific coronavirus variants just won't get the long-term job done, one expert says.

That's why University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine's Dr. Drew Weissman and his team are on a quest to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine.

"There have been three epidemics with coronavirus in the past 20 years. The problem with chasing variants is by the time you've made a vaccine the variant is gone and a new variant appears," said Weissman.

The vaccine pioneer and immunologist says they started working on a universal vaccine back in 2020.

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"The tricky part is what antigens to use. That's what's in the vaccine that you're inducing the body to make a response against," said Weissman.

But he adds this isn't easy work.

"For a pan-coronavirus, a vaccine that has to hit hundreds of thousands of different viruses, you have to find a common antigen that cross-reacts all of the different bat coronaviruses," said Weissman.

There's already been some success.

"We've identified a couple. Two of them have already been published, and they show very broad protection against all of the bat coronaviruses that we have," said Weissman.

They've already developed two potential universal vaccines.

"We have two vaccines that work well. We're making more because, in the end, we might have to mix vaccines together to get the protection possible," said Weissman.

Dr. Weissman is hopeful universal vaccine clinical trials will start potentially in a year and a half.

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