Since the approval of use of vaccines against COVID-19, multiple variants have appeared that have put health institutions around the world on alert. Delta, omicron, XE and alpha are some of them. And every time it happened, the first question that popped into our heads was: will current vaccines also protect us against this new mutation?
The appearance of new variants is one of the factors that makes the effectiveness of vaccines reduce over time. To address this issue, a new vaccine candidate called CoVPSA which tries to protect against all existing variants and against others that may appear in the future.
CoVPSA has been obtained thanks to a supercomputer and the results have just been published in the prestigious journal “Scientific Reports”.
How has the vaccine been developed?
This vaccine candidate against COVID-19 It has been designed with mathematical methods. The techniques used are related to combinatorics, discrete mathematics and computer science.
It has been the result of multidisciplinary collaboration between two scientific institutions. First of all, the University of the Basque Country/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea did the preliminary theoretical study and the computational simulation of the chain of 22 amino acids that make up the peptide of the vaccine.
Subsequently, the Marqués de Valdecilla Health Research Institute (IDIVAL) and the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital in Cantabria They were in charge of loading said peptide in the cells that initiate an adaptive immune response in our body (called dendritic cells). They also took care of doing the subsequent biological tests in vitro and live. Positive results were obtained from these laboratory tests.
In the aforementioned article, the practical viability of the method is evidenced, moving from a basic investigation to a translational investigation. In this way, the ground is prepared for possible clinical applications in the short and medium term in order to obtain effective vaccines against various types of diseases.
A universal vaccine against all mutations of COVID-19
The vaccine candidate, called CoVPSA, was obtained thanks to the potency of the Arina supercomputer of the General Research Services (SGIker) of the UPV/EHU. Its power is equivalent to that of thousands of personal computers added together.
An entire programming algorithm was used to run continuously for several days, resulting in the aforementioned 22 amino acid sequence.
This design method is based on the lambda-superstring concept introduced in a previous study by teams from these institutions. This is a particularly appropriate method to assess the different mutations experienced by the pathogen and to be able to obtain a single vaccine for all of them.
That is, not only one of the variants is considered, but obtains a peptide that sufficiently covers the epitopes of all the variants that have been appearing.
Thus, a universal vaccine effective against all mutations is obtained. This is the main difference with respect to classical vaccine design methods, which do not confer protection simultaneously against the different variants of the pathogenic agent.
The CoVPSA peptide thus designed was synthesized and integrated into a vaccine vector formed by dendritic cells. The results obtained are good in terms of the immunogenicity of the vaccine, the cytokine profile obtained and the humoral response generated, as well as in terms of its safety profile.
A vaccine based on mathematical models
You can also adapt and modify the method so that the vaccine protects against variants that may appear in the future. In fact, the research teams of the UPV/EHU and the IDIVAL institute are already working on it to anticipate events. They will take into account a mathematical model that reflects the probability of potential future mutations.
In this way, the vaccine would not only cover the epitopes of the different varieties of the virus that may currently be living together, but also those of other mutations that are more likely to occur and that have not yet occurred. This is the main innovation brought by the use of lambda-superstrings. These computational mathematical studies are also being supported and financed by the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics (BCAM), “Severo Ochoa” center of excellence.
The next step is for both teams to run additional tests to build on the preliminary results. They are also working on the computational mathematical design of new vaccine candidates that take into account the latest variants of the virus..
Computational design with lambda-superstrings is also used with another Hepatitis C vaccine candidate for which, to date, there is no effective vaccine.
*The original note is found by doing click on this link.
The article was written by Luis Martínez Fernández, Professor of Mathematics, specialized in the area of Algebra, University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea and Carmen Álvarez, Biochemist and molecular biologist, immunologist, vaccine expert and research professor
*The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.