|Workers inspect masks at a production line of the Wuhan Zonsen Medical Products Co. Ltd. in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province April 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
JERUSALEM, Israel – An Israeli scientist from Tel Aviv University has found a way to target the family of coronaviruses that could potentially lead to a vaccine against COVID-19.
Prof. Jonathan Gershoni and his team of researchers have designed a vaccine that attacks the most vulnerable part of COVID-19’s protein structure – the Receptor Binding Motif (RBM) – which allows the virus to bind to cells within the body.
The RBM is a tiny but highly complex component of the virus’ “spike” protein, which is the main doorway it uses to latch onto cells and infect the body by injecting its own DNA into healthy cells.
“We have been working on coronaviruses for the last 15 years, developing a method of reconstructing and reconstituting the RBM feature of the spike protein in SARS CoV and subsequently in MERS CoV,” explains Prof. Gershoni. “The moment the genome of the new virus was published in early January 2020, we began the process of reconstituting the RBM of SARS CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and expect to have a reconstituted RBM of the new virus soon. This will be the basis for a new vaccine, which could be ready for use within a year to a year and a half.”
Instead of targeting the entire spike protein, the vaccine specifically restructures the RBM. This would prevent the spike protein from helping the virus to bind to healthy cells and infect them.
"The smaller the target and the focus of the attack, the greater the effectiveness of the vaccine," he adds. "The virus takes far-reaching measures to hide its RBM from the human immune system, but the best way to 'win the war' is to develop a vaccine that specifically targets the virus’s RBM."
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has already granted Prof. Gershoni a patent for his vaccine design.
“Now that we have received serum samples we should be able to isolate RBM-based vaccine candidates in the next month or two,” concludes Prof. Gershoni. “The discovery and production of a functional RBM for the new coronavirus is fundamental and critical for the production of the vaccine we propose.
“Our successful isolation and reconstitution of such a functional RBM will allow the industry to incorporate it into a vaccine, which will be produced by a pharmaceutical company. Development of such an RBM-based vaccine should take months and then would need to be tested in Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials which would then take up to a year.”