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Brazil opens a new path in the race for the coronavirus vaccine

Publicado em 18 março 2020

Brazilian scientists are developing a coronavirus vaccine with a different method than that used so far by the pharmaceutical industry and groups of researchers from other countries, who expect it to be tested on animals in the coming months.

It is the current great challenge of the international scientific community and Brazil, as a power of Latin America, has joined this agonizing race to discover an effective immune response against the virus that has paralyzed half the world, although it has done so with a different approach.

Meanwhile, Brazilians remain skeptical about the extent of this global pandemic in the country, where there are about 300 confirmed cases and at least one death from COVID-19.

A NEW METHOD WITH VIRUS-LIKE PARTICLES

Only the noise of the cold rooms and some conversations in low voices break the silence in the Immunology laboratory of the Heart Institute (Incor) of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo (USP).

Concentration is absolute. Here, a dozen Brazilian scientists from various areas have been investigating for a month a vaccine through artificial particles similar to the coronavirus, according to Efe, Dr. Jorge Kalil, director of the laboratory and coordinator of the project.

Until now, most of the experiments carried out in countries like Germany and the United States have focused on vaccines created from the genetic material of the pathogen, more specifically, the insertion into the vaccine of synthetic messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules.

But Kalil, who is in quarantine after a close relative tested positive for coronavirus, maintains that such a path will not yield the expected results.

“We believe that this way, despite being safe, does not induce a very strong immune response and generally, when we test that RNA vaccine in humans it gives a weak response,” he explains.

The premise then is “not to use genetic material”, due to the little existing information on the coronavirus, and to develop structures similar to it, says Dr. Gustavo Cabral, responsible for the project.

“We do not know the virus as well and the information we have is insufficient to project a vaccine that uses genetic material,” he says.

These multiproteic structures are the so-called VLPs, which are created in the laboratory by means of molecular biology techniques and are easily recognized by the cells of the immune system.

“The vaccine we are proposing looks like the cortex of a virus, it has the outside of a virus, but it doesn’t have nucleic acid inside, which is what allows it to multiply,” says Kalil.

“And we can make pieces of the coronavirus protein on the surface of that particle so that the immune system perceives it as if it were the virus, gives a strong response and is capable of producing antibodies against that part of the coronavirus that we want to attack”, complete.

OBJECTIVE: ATTACKING THE EARS OF THE SARS-CoV-2

A common denominator that is repeated in several of the investigations against the new coronavirus is the way to deactivate it, something that had been working since the SARS-CoV outbreaks in 2002 and MERS-CoV in 2012.

The key seems to lie in the characteristic tips of coronaviruses, which have a spherical shape from which protrude a kind of “florets”, which are actually proteins, as Kalil explains.

“The idea is to develop an immune response against that specific part,” since it is the one that “facilitates the coronavirus to enter the cell,” says Cabral, who studied the last five years in Europe to develop vaccines against Zika, and returned to Brazil in February to create one against streptococcus and chikungunya, but the emergence of the coronavirus forced him to change the focus.

The mission now is to generate some type of antibody against those ears of the coronavirus that prevents it from entering and infecting the body’s cells.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AWARENESS

Brazil is the Latin American country with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus -the first was registered on February 26 and already registers about 300 and at least one death-, it is expected to have many more in the coming weeks and is just beginning to take some precautionary measures.

Most of the actions have been taken in the country’s two main cities and also those most affected by the coronavirus, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with the closure of schools, museums and the suspension of massive public events, although the Most of its inhabitants have not yet entered a “quarantine” mentality.

In the lobby of the Heart Institute there are many cartels that warn about COVID-19 and how to avoid its spread, but almost all patients do not keep the safety distance or wear a mask.

One of the receptionists wears one, but it is lowered, with her mouth exposed, while she talks to the people who arrive at the hospital.

Hence the importance of public awareness.

“Listen to the specialists, listen to the people who know and work with it for a long time, more than the political game or the financial question,” Cabral begs.

On the other hand, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who considers that there is a “hysteria” around the coronavirus, which he came to describe as “fiction” fed by the press.

Carlos Meneses Sánchez

Society | America Edition