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Science vs. COVID-19: Vaccine trial wins and other hopeful findings

2020.06.02 0+

In the latest installment of our “Hope Behind the Headlines” series, we look at the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trials that have been progressing successfully, and at one promising therapeutic approach for COVID-19: Convalescent plasma therapy.

What are the latest reasons for optimism when it comes to COVID-19 research?


The COVID-19 pandemic has been taking its toll on the world for months now, but researchers have not been sparing any time or resources in looking for ways to defeat the new coronavirus that causes this disease.

Once every 2 weeks at Medical News Today, we review the most promising findings and scientific advances in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.

Previously, we looked at new drug candidates for the treatment of COVID-19, and at some helpful research approaches for scientists studying the virus.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

In this feature, we update you on the progress of some of the most hopeful vaccine and therapy trials so far.

DNA vaccine shows promise in monkeys

In a study paper appearing in Science on May 20, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and other collaborating institutions report that they obtained promising results with a DNA vaccine that they trialed in rhesus macaques.

DNA vaccines are relative newcomers in the field of vaccine research. They work by introducing DNA molecules into the body, meaning to stimulate an immune response to markers of a specific virus.

In the study in Science, the research team developed six different DNA vaccines with the role of eliciting an immune response against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 — in other words, the protein that allows this virus to infect healthy cells.

The researchers injected 35 rhesus macaques with the various DNA vaccine iterations and then infected them with the new coronavirus to see whether and which of the vaccines were effective.

They found that one of the six vaccines — which encoded the full length spike protein — had a greater protective effect than the other candidates.

While the vaccinated monkeys did develop mild symptoms consistent with SARS-CoV-2 infection, they also developed neutralizing antibodies — or the molecules that are able to recognize and fight the virus.

Thus, these monkeys presented an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 that was similar to the one seen in nonhuman primates and humans who have recovered from an infection with the new coronavirus.

The researchers also saw that monkeys that they had vaccinated had a lower viral load than unvaccinated monkeys, following infection with SARS-CoV-2, which suggests a more robust immune response in the former.

From their observations, the investigators conclude that their vaccine candidate works primarily by inducing a rapid immune response upon the individual’s exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

“Further research will need to address the important questions of the durability of protective immunity and the optimal vaccine platforms for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for humans,” the team writes in the study paper.