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- 05/26/2020

COVID-19: vaccine and drug development updates

Chimica Oggi-Chemistry Today

New research has suggested that cigarette smoke increases the gene expression of ACE2, the protein that is implicated in vulnerability to the virus.

Mass spectrometry has revealed how SARS-CoV-2 changes human cells upon infection, resulting in the identification of new drug targets.

In further good news, a robust immune response has been observed in a group of 20 who had recovered from COVID-19, ameliorating concerns that a vaccine might not be feasible.

Meanwhile, Aetion (NY, USA) is set to collaborate with the US FDA to analyze real-world data to help advance understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, while for those of us in the lab, AMSBIO (Oxford, UK) has announced the availability of custom lentivirus pseudotyped with spike glycoprotein from SARS-CoV-2, in a bid to support drug and vaccine development.


Further evidence has been provided to support the natural evolution of SARS-CoV-2, with the new RmYN02 virus, discovered in bats, containing insertions of amino acids in the spike protein that are similar to SARS-CoV-2. While not a direct relation, the new virus highlights that these unusual insertion events can happen in nature.

Turning from bats to men, a study comprising several thousand European patients has revealed that men have higher blood levels of ACE2, the protein involved in SARS-CoV-2’s infection of healthy cells. This could help explain why men are more vulnerable than women.

Single-cell sequencing has revealed a case of mistaken identity, and resulted in a new antigen-presenting immune cell type being discovered – inf-cDC2. The dendritic cells are crucial during respiratory virus infections. As a result, they could help explain how convalescent plasma helps boost response in COVID-19 patients and could offer new therapeutic strategies against virus-induced respiratory diseases.


A team from Utrecht University (The Netherlands) have reportedly identified a fully human monoclonal antibody capable of preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection cells in vitro. This new research has built on previous work targeting SARS-CoV, which emerged in the early 2000s. The antibody binds to a conserved domain.

In further antibody-based news, a team from the University of Texas at Austin (USA) has combined two copies of a llama antibody, which binds to the spike protein and also blocks infection in vitro. Llamas are of particular interest because they produce two types of antibody – one is similar to human antibodies, the other is much smaller and theoretically useful for nebulization. In turn, that could be useful for respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

Furthermore, a new study has reported that while discharged COVID-19 patients produce virus-specific antibodies and T cells, the response shows broad variation. The authors speculate that this could be due to the amount of virus encountered, physical health or their microbiota. The study also demonstrated which parts of the virus are most effective at triggering immune response.

Focusing in on the spike protein, a team has utilized mass spectrometry to reveal its glycan structures, with implications for vaccine design.

A research team at the University of Southern California (USA) has suggested that suppressing the body’s immune response during the early stages of COVID-19 could prevent the severe immune system overdrive seen by some patients. The group used a common mathematical model to show that the adaptive immune system is kicking in ‘too soon’ in COVID-19.

Another model has been utilized to try and predict when COVID-19 will end.



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