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Researchers reworking UQ COVID vaccine to fight viruses in the future

Researchers working on the molecular clamp technology used as the basis for the University of Queensland COVID-19 vaccine candidate have taken the first steps towards reworking it so it could still be used to fight COVID and other diseases in the future.

The pre-clinical trial data for the UQ vaccine candidate has been peer-reviewed and published in a journal, indicating the accelerated pipeline for vaccine development for COVID-19.

UQ researchers have taken their first steps towards re-engineering their molecular clamp to fight COVID and other diseases.

UQ researchers have taken their first steps towards re-engineering their molecular clamp to fight COVID and other diseases. Credit:University of Queensland

In the time taken for the initial data to pass through the approvals process, the vaccine had moved to phase I clinical trials before displaying a tendency to produce false positives in HIV tests, leading to it being abandoned.

Daniel Watterson, one of the lead researchers in the UQ team working on the molecular clamp technology, said having the paper published after they had halted initial work on that vaccine candidate was bittersweet.

However, he stressed the results of the pre-clinical study showed what they had said all along: that the underlying technology was sound, and showed potential for further research.

“We’ve all come to accept that there were issues with [HIV false positives], there’s no getting around that, but what we have done is start working on the next generation of vaccines that won’t have that problem,” Dr Watterson said.

The technology works by using a microscopic “clamp” made out of a strand of protein to hold together the spike protein from the surface of the coronavirus molecule, which would lose its shape otherwise.

Those spikes provoke the immune response from the body, with both pre-clinical and phase I data indicating good immune responses.

However, the research team had used a small fragment of the HIV molecule as their clamp, which caused people given the vaccination to falsely test positive for HIV, which would have rendered screening programs for the autoimmune disease useless.

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