Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Brazil advances in coronavirus vaccine research

When the world was still accounting for about 80,000 cases of covid-19 -- currently surpassing 3.6 million -- a network of Brazilian scientists was beginning to devote themselves exclusively to the development of a national coronavirus vaccine. There are now two ongoing surveys in the country, with different lines. The race is worldwide, but for Brazil, with 210 million inhabitants, having a product manufactured here may also represent tranquility in the future, by not relying on – or relying on a smaller scale – on imports. In São Paulo, scientists from InCor (Heart Institute of the Hospital das Clínicas of the Faculty of Medicine of USP), under the coordination of the full professor of the University Jorge Kalil, began work in February and now already do the first tests on mice. Professor Jorge Kalil's team technique consists of the use of VLPs (virus-like particles), which are molecules that resemble the virus but do not have genetic material for viral replication. "To these VLPs we will couple pieces of the virus that we think are important for the virus to bind to human cells. And then, triggering antibodies against this part will cause the antibodies to block the penetration of the virus into the cell, which is our main goal," explains Kalil, who is also director of incor's Immunology Laboratory, in an interview with R7. In addition, the group also researches the immune response of cured people, volunteers who had covid-19 and recovered well. Both serum, which has immunoglobulin (antibodies), and cells are analyzed. "You can defend yourself from the virus with antibodies, but also with cells, called cytotoxic cells, that kill infected cells. What we have observed is that not everyone has many neutralizing antibodies. It is believed that when these people do not have the neutralizing antibodies, it is because the cellular component of the response was important as well. Ideally, we will make a vaccine that has components to generate antibodies, but also to generate cells that are effective", he adds. With all the "assembly" part of the vaccine ready, application now begins in mice, to see if they respond with the production of antibodies. Then, transgenic mice will be used, with a receptor called ACE2, which is where the coronavirus enters the cells. "We will immunise them and see if, by injecting the virus, they do not get sick," he explains. Next steps include pre-clinical studies on at least two animal species to test safety and verify that the vaccine is not toxic. "If all this works out, we will propose to Anvisa [National Health Surveillance Agency] to begin human studies," Kalil says. He points out, however, that there will not be a vaccine available in the world in less than a year and a half. "At best, one year. This vaccine, if we don't have ours, if it's made in England, first they're going to vaccinate the English, then Americans, then Europeans, then Chinese... For us to have access to this vaccine, it's going to take a while. You have to have a factory that produces, you have to have a lot of things."
R7 - 06/05/2020 News Item translated automatically
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