SARS link raises vaccine hope

Local | Angel Kwan 28 Feb 2020

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology researchers have found similarities in DNA sequences between the Covid-19 and SARS viruses, which could help in developing a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

The researchers said they have published the findings in the open-access international scientific journal Viruses in the hope that further experimental tests based on their results can be conducted by scientists.

Matthew Mckay, a data scientist and professor from the department of electronic and computer engineering who led the team, said they started analyzing the genetic sequences of SARS and Covid-19 viruses in mid-January, and finished it after two to three weeks.

They found 20 percent of epitopes - protein fragments on the surface of a virus - exist on both SARS and Covid-19 that could induce a human immune response against Covid-19.

As a result, the epitopes could be candidates as antigens for a vaccine.

The team has also performed a population coverage analysis and found that one set of epitopes had the capacity to induce a strong immune response during the SARS outbreak in 2003. "Given this epitope set also exists in the Covid-19 virus, a vaccine developed from it has the potential to also be effective for a large portion of the population," said Ahmed Abdul Quadeer, a co-leader.

The data analytic team said it is difficult for them to predict the possibility of developing vaccines based on the result, as it requires further biological and clinical experiments.

But Mckay said that the findings, alongside research efforts by scientists around the world, "can help guide experimental efforts in the search for an effective vaccine against Covid-19."

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