According to a study in MDPI Vaccines, Researchers at Israel's Bar-Ilan University have discovered a group of epitopes from the SARS-CoV-2 proteome which can generate immune responses. A proteome is the complete set of proteins which can be created from an organism. An epitope is the specific structural part of a pathogen to which an antibody attaches for identifying in immune responses.

Why this is significant

The researchers suggest their findings can contribute to the development of a "peptide vaccine" to immunize against COVID-19 as well as to prevent future coronavirus pandemics.

Immunoinformatics and Structural Analysis for Identification of Immunodominant Epitopes in SARS-CoV-2 as Potential Vaccine Targets
A new coronavirus infection, COVID-19, has recently emerged, and has caused a global pandemic along with an international public health emergency. Currently, no licensed vaccines are available for COVID-19. The identification of immunodominant epitopes for both B- and T-cells that induce protective …

The research team was led by Dr. Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern, Head of the Cancer Genomics and BioComputing of Complex Diseases Lab at the University's Azrieli Faculty of Medicine. The team used computer software to uncover the 3 proteins from the proteome of the virus, wherein 15 potentially immunogenic regions were discovered.

Across other proteins, a total of 25 immunodominant epitopes were identified. In testing, seven specific epitopes were identified as existing in >87% of the population infected with COVID-19.

Example epitope classification from a norovirus. CC 3.0 Image file from Lindesmith L, Beltramello M, Donaldson E, Corti D, Swanstrom J, Debbink K, Lanzavecchia A, Baric R (2012). "Immunogenetic Mechanisms Driving Norovirus GII.4 Antigenic Variation". PLOS Pathogens. DOI:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002705. PMID 22615565. PMC: 3355092.
"Immune responses that are based on specific immunodominant epitopes involve the generation of both antibody- and cell-mediated immunity against pathogens presenting such epitopes. Such immunity can facilitate fast and effective elimination of the pathogen."

These seven epitopes were rigorously tested to verify low to zero risk for allergic response, toxicity, and the triggering of an autoimmune response.

Where to go next

The research done by the university provides a foundation of data from which effective vaccines can be developed. These findings verify such a vaccine would target structural parts of a vaccine in nearly 90% of those infected by COVID-19 so far.

The Frenkel-Morgenstern group currently seeks partners in industry as well as at medical centers to advance their efforts at developing a peptide-based vaccine for COVID-19.