Scientists Develop New Omicron-Targeting Vaccine

A team of scientists from Yale recently developed a new COVID vaccine that offers superior immune protection against omicron variants.

Dubbed Omnivax, the new vaccine reportedly increased neutralizing antibody response against the BA.1 and BA.2.12.1 omicron subvariants in pre-immunized mice 19-fold and eight-fold, respectively, when compared with the standard mRNA vaccines.

Details on the improved response against the BA.1 subvariant were published in the journal Nature Communications, while the results of the study involving the BA.2 subvariant were published in the journal Cell Discovery.

"While standard mRNA vaccines still offer protection against infection from new variants, their effectiveness wanes over time and was compromised due to immune escaping mutations in emerging variants. We wanted to see if we could develop variant-specific vaccines that offer additional protection against emerging subvariants,” said Sidi Chen, an associate professor of genetics at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of both studies.

Developed in Chen’s lab by a team headed by postdoctoral associate Zhenhao Fang, the experimental vaccines used engineered lipid nanoparticles to deliver mRNA to cells with "instructions" to create spike proteins from mutating variants. The virus uses the proteins to infect cells.

The mutations reportedly blunted the protection of earlier mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Researchers managed to develop the engineered lipid nanoparticle mRNA vaccines quickly. After the BA.1 subvariant emerged in mid-November, the researchers were able to create a vaccine against the new strain by mid-December. But testing for vaccine efficacy was not completed until February.

"Although translating the new vaccine candidate from bench to bedside requires rigorous testing in human trials, these preclinical studies provide a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of an omicron-specific vaccine candidate, which will hopefully fuel the development of next-generation COVID vaccines," Chen said.

With the recent rise of the new BA.4 and BA.5 variants, Yale researchers are now at work testing a new vaccine candidate on mice.

Chen said that while they have a system in place capable of quickly combating the emerging subvariants, adjustments to the system are needed to respond more promptly to newer health threats.

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