Vaccine project targeting COVID-19’s 'Achilles heel' announced

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Scientists at Israel’s Tel Aviv University and biopharmaceutical company Neovii have announced a project to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Experts involved in the effort say that they are targeting the "Achilles heel" of coronavirus.

Earlier this week, Ramot, which is Tel Aviv University’s technology transfer company, signed an agreement with Swiss-based biopharmaceutical firm Neovii to develop the vaccine. Based on an epitope, the part of an antigen or foreign protein that can stimulate an immune response, the vaccine aims to reconstruct coronavirus’ Receptor Binding Motif (RBM), a critical structure of its “spike” protein, according to Tel Aviv University.

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“The ‘spike’ protein itself is the major surface protein that the virus uses to bind to the cellular receptor that acts as the doorway into the human cell,” explained Tel Aviv University in a statement. “After the spike protein binds to the human cell receptor, the viral membrane fuses with the cell membrane, allowing the genome of the virus to enter the cell and begin infection.”

The team is led by Prof. Jonathan Gershoni of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology.

“We have been working on coronaviruses for the last 15 years developing a method of reconstructing and reconstituting the RBM structure of the spike protein in SARS-CoV and subsequently in MERS-CoV,” said Gershoni in the statement. “The moment the genome of the new virus was published in early January 2020, we began the process of reconstituting the RBM of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and expect to have a reconstituted RBM of the new virus soon. This is the basis for the new vaccine, which could be ready for use within a year to a year and a half.”

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As of Friday afternoon, more than 4.48 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, at least 1,420,299 of which are in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The disease has accounted for at least 308,825 deaths around the world, including at least 85,906 people in the U.S.

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