As humans continue to encroach on wildlife habitats, zoonotic viruses - viruses that jump from animals to humans - will continue to spread. Among these are coronaviruses, a family of RNA viruses which often originate in bats and are transmitted to humans through intermediary animals. Since the first human coronavirus was identified in 1965, several coronaviruses have spread around the world. Some, like SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and of course, SARS-CoV-2, are deadly. Others, like CoV-229E, CoV-NL63, CoV-OC43, and CoV-HKU1, are more mild. These are what we know as the common cold.
The growing number of zoonotic coronaviruses has spurred scientists to start developing a pan-coronavirus. Right now, the vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Astrazeneca target one spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. But researchers working on the pan-coronavirus vaccine hope to develop a vaccine that attacks epitopes - the parts of an antigen that stimulates an immune response - common to several coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, bat coronaviruses not yet transmitted to humans, and strains of the common cold caused by coronaviruses.
So when can we expect to see a pan-coronavirus vaccine? Sooner than you might expect. The Phase 1 clinical trials of this new vaccine could begin as early as June 2021. If the trials are successful, and this vaccine proves effective in humans, the consequences could be far-reaching. The multi-epitope method could be applied to vaccines targeting other families of RNA viruses. And in the meantime, the pan-coronavirus vaccine might make future cold seasons more bearable.
Read the full study about pre-emptive pan-coronavirus vaccines here.