As the omicron variant of the coronavirus sets off alarms worldwide, scientists at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology are racing to find a universal vaccine to protect the world against any future outbreaks.
“Emergence of yet another variant was completely predictable and there's going to be another one after this and that's why it's so urgent that we make life-long durable vaccines that are going to last us for years," said Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., president, and CEO of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.
It's a seemingly impossible task but Saphire says her team is confident they can make it happen.
"It's going really well," said Saphire. "Our first results are really exciting.”
Saphire and her team of over 30 scientists began their research nearly two years ago. It's been a long journey but they’ve made significant progress.
"We know what the T cell responses ought to be, we have the properly shaped engineered vaccine, we’re learning more on how to deliver it and so we’re going to move forward in iteration," said Saphire.
A new vaccine ingredient recently discovered by a neighboring lab at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology is another step forward for the team.
"A new discovery from Shane Crotty's lab is something called an adjuvant," said Saphire. "[An adjuvant] is an additive to the vaccine that tells your immune response, ‘pay attention to this.’"
Professor Crotty's discovery is a possible way to improve the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine
"We’re a lot of steps closer," said Saphire.
Saphire says they’re closer to finalizing the research needed to send their vaccine into clinical trials and with that steps closer to preventing the next pandemic.
The team received more than $2.6 million from the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases to develop the universal coronavirus vaccine. The full grant lasts four years with additional funding to arrive in year four.