Panacea and panvacunas.

Investigators are looking for a universal coronavirus vaccine.

In Greek mythology, Panacea is a minor goddess of health. She was Asclepius’ daughter (the Roman Aesculapius) and Epione (God Helios’s daughter). And the sister of Hygeia, the goddess of health, cleanliness, and hygiene. An illustrious medical family.

“Panacea helping the sick”, by J. Gazola (1716). Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Panacea is a Greek voice (Πανάκεια/panákeia, in Latin panacēa). It means the capacity to cure various diseases — a remedy for any ailment. Ancient alchemists and healers sought to cure all diseases. They were looking for a therapeutic panacea.

In the preventive field, this attitude also inspires many of today’s researchers. Investigators look for a universal vaccine against many species of microbes like viruses. The goal is to find a universal coronavirus vaccine.

In Spanish, the neologism panvacuna means universal vaccine. The prefix Pan- is a Greek word (παν) meaning all or whole (i.e., Pan-American, pantheism, pandemic).

In Spanish, the neologism panvacuna means universal vaccine.

Pandemic coronavirus has reasons that reason understands.

In the past centuries, flu epidemics some of the pandemic category are of great concern. They are disasters that worry planetary health authorities and thousands of scientists.

Both SARS (2020) and MERS (2012) epidemics have a high lethality (10% and 34%). COVID-19 lethality is lesser (<1%), but it is still around six times higher than seasonal flu.

COVID-19 is a complicated disease. Certain factors (following table) can explain its transcendence:

Factors related. Credit: AMS.

All factors contributed to the social disaster. And some health consequences: a significant number of infected, hospitalized, and dead patients. One can still add the new mutant viral variants.

Mutations use to go in favor of the virus. They can spread better, replicate more, and elude vaccines. And to have a worse response to therapies. It is a scenario that may justify higher mortality and reinfections.

It exists a hidden threat and the hopes of vaccines.

Computational studies (Nature Communications) or show exciting data. Humankind is at high risk. New yet unknown coronaviruses could attack. The list of intermediary animals may increase. Until now those are civets, Arabian dromedaries, pangolins, minks, cats, and zoo felines.

Coronaviruses must be swarming in reservoirs (bats). Then, they can suffer genetic recombination. A known evolutive mechanism so feared in pandemic flu. It seems four or more new coronaviruses could infect forty times as many animal species. Around 126 mammals may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

There are natural conditions for the emergence of pandemics. Bad news. Because of some epidemics of unknown scope and effects. There are also good ones: the response of the scientific world. A behavior supported by industry and some governments. All they responded and very well to the pandemic. Science discovered the structural virus’s “anatomy” and its genome in a record time.

SARS-CoV-2 Structure and Genome. Credit: R. Kubina and A. Dziedzic. In: Diagnostics.

Today there are many powerful diagnostic techniques. The drug’s efficacy is good. Several vaccines (in less than a year) are rolling out. But it is not enough. Science is never satisfied.

Some circulating viral variants appear to diminish Pfizer’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines’ efficacy. Yet, it does not invalidate them. The fear exists that chance will shape a lousy mixture of mutations. In this scenario, SARS CoV-2 could be less vulnerable.

One should not go after the virus. It is convenient to track its evolutionary chance-dependent intentions. Prevention must be on the horizon of the near future. In this sense, a universal vaccine will be necessary for the face of a new pandemic. Humanity needs a coronavirus “panvacuna”.

Mosaic nanoparticles.

The idea is old because the science looks for a universal flu vaccine for years (Virology Journal). It tries to synthesize antibodies against flu hemagglutinin stem. Also is likely to elicit a good lymphocyte response. A universal flu vaccine would cover several different strains (human, swine, and avian).

The fact is interesting because a real menace is waiting. Russia has reported to WHO the first outbreak of seven cases of H5N8 avian influenza in humans. Worrying news, although there are mRNA vaccine models against flu emerging pathogens.

The vaccine model against coronaviruses published in Science is very encouraging. The mosaic nanoparticle is an ingenious model. It tests in mice injected with viral antigens “glued” onto a nanoparticle (a very, very tiny device).

The experimental model permits to use of up to 60 antigens. But, researchers use only eight. The antibody response (vaccine immunity) against a mosaic of 8 antigens is high. It also inhibits four more coronaviruses not tested in the experimental model. The mosaic vaccine is effective against human and zoonotic coronaviruses of pandemic potential.

Inject mice with a nanoparticle coated with eight different coronavirus antigens. The vaccine triggers an antibody response of antibodies against the antigens tested. And against four untested strains (universal vaccine). Credit: A. Cohen. In: BioRender.

Let us follow the right road.

This kind of research is expensive. Sure? It involves investing around $100–200 million per year. Indeed, it is much money, but a tip against a new pandemic emergency’s health, social and economic costs. COVID-19 will be 500 times more expensive than preventing the next pandemic (Science). NIH and prestigious scientists (as Dr. Fauci) encourage universal searching vaccines against coronaviruses.

Let go!

PS. It is an English version of an article published in Spanish in BioTech Magazine: De la panacea a la panvacuna.

Medical Doctor (Infectious Diseases specialist/Professor of Medicine) and writer (narrative, theater).

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