The promise of longer-lasting immunity: ‘variant-proof’ Covid vaccine begins trials

On-trial jab may offer better protection against new strains of coronavirus

A nurse with a vaccine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Trials for a “variant-proof” booster vaccine have begun in Manchester, raising hopes that the elderly and vulnerable could achieve long-lasting immunity against Covid-19.

Bolton-based couple Andrew and Helen Clarke, aged 63 and 64 respectively, were the first trial participants to receive the mRNA vaccine, which scientists hope will do away with the need to tweak jabs regularly to combat new strains, The Telegraph reported.

The results of the phase-one trial, which was launched by US pharmaceutical company Gritstone in collaboration with the University of Manchester and the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, are expected by the spring.

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Most Covid vaccines target the coronavirus’s spike protein – a small grappling hook on the outside of the virus that it uses to latch onto human cells. However, new variants have spike protein mutations, which can make current vaccines less effective.

The new vaccine, currently called GRT-R910, contains other viral proteins that are less likely to evolve over time, and is also designed to induce a strong memory T-cell response.

The University of Manchester’s Professor Andrew Ustianowski, chief investigator for the study, said that “the immune response to first generation vaccines can wane, particularly in older people” and “we think GRT-R910 as a booster vaccination will elicit strong, durable, and broad immune responses”.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, who is not involved in the trial, told The Guardian that “using parts of the virus that are less prone to change in virus variants has the potential to provoke an immune response that will be more effective against all current virus variants and any future variants that might develop”.

The trial will be broadened to test the jab’s efficacy beyond the elderly and in other vulnerable populations. It will examine dose, safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity at least four months after the second dose of an initial vaccine.

The Clarkes said they had agreed to volunteer for the trial to “play their part” in ending the pandemic.

Andrew Clarke added: “Somebody has to be the first and we’re confident in the science and technology behind this vaccine and convinced of the need for it. We feel that this is perhaps a small part we can play in helping to make things change.”

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