With the chaotic entry of omicron onto the pandemic stage, there's concern that current vaccines may not be as effective against this variant as they were against others. Which is why news out of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is especially noteworthy: Defense One reports that scientists there are weeks away from officially announcing they've come up with a "pan-coronavirus" vaccine that's effective not only against current variants, but ones that haven't even emerged yet. Phase 1 of human trials, which were able to test the vaccine against variants now in circulation, including omicron, were completed this month.
The vaccine—which preclinical study results show also "elicits a potent immune response" in nonhuman primates, per the Army—differs from vaccines already out there in that this one uses a 24-faced, soccer-ball-shaped protein, allowing scientists to attach the spikes of various coronavirus strains to different faces. "This vaccine stands out in the COVID-19 vaccine landscape," Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, head of WRAIR's Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch and co-inventor of the vaccine, says in a release. "The repetitive and ordered display of the coronavirus spike protein on a multi-faced nanoparticle may stimulate immunity in such a way as to translate into significantly broader protection," he adds.
The Walter Reed researchers have been working on this vaccine for almost two years, starting when the Army lab received its first DNA sequencing of the novel coronavirus in early 2020. "We decided to take a look at the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of SARS," Modjarrad tells Defense One. The next step: phase 2 and 3 trials, as well as figuring out how the new vaccine works with people who've already received other COVID vaccines or been infected with the coronavirus. An unnamed partner is assisting Walter Reed with that end of things. "It's very exciting to get to this point for our entire team and I think for the entire Army as well," Modjarrad tells Defense One. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)