Researchers say coronavirus mutation may thwart vaccine development efforts

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, many are hoping that the development of a vaccine will eventually end the crisis.

However, coronavirus researchers recently sounded the alarm that mutations of the virus may make creating a vaccine much harder than previously thought.

“Significant SARS-CoV-2 mutant”

On Wednesday, Fox News covered a study that appears on the biorxiv.org repository. It focused on a sample of SARS-CoV-2 — the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — obtained from India, and while the study has yet to be peer-reviewed, its observations were somewhat alarming.

“The discrepant phylogenies for the spike protein and its receptor binding domain proved a previously reported structural rearrangement prior to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2,” researchers wrote in the study.

“Despite that we found, the spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 is particularly more conserved, we identified a mutation that leads to weaker receptor binding capability, which concerns a SARS-CoV-2 sample collected on 27th 26 January 2020 from India.”

“This represents the first report of a significant SARS-CoV-2 mutant, and raises the alarm that the ongoing vaccine development may become futile in future epidemic if more mutations were identified.”

The study’s authors did note than the virus “has a much lower mutation rate and genetic diversity” than the SARS strain that broke out in China 18 years ago.

While the study’s findings are alarming, Fox News noted that a different study conducted in Italy “found that the virus is slow to mutate, based on its genetic material,” something that “could aid in helping large swaths of people over an extended period of time once a specific cure is found.”

Another treatment setback

A vaccine is considered the ultimate solution to recurring coronavirus outbreaks, but there was some hope that a treatment — mainly hydroxychloroquine — could be effective in the meantime. However, in another study that Fox News cited, researchers in China found that hydroxychloroquine was not effective at clearing patients of coronavirus.

The study did find that the anti-malaria drug, however, did appear to alleviate the symptoms of coronavirus. “The administration of [hydroxychloroquine] did not result in a higher negative conversion rate but more alleviation of clinical symptoms than [standard-of-care] alone in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 without receiving antiviral treatment, possibly through anti-inflammatory effects,” the authors wrote.

The study was conducted over a 28-day period between February 11 and 29 at sixteen Chinese health facilities. Of the 150 patients who participated, 75 were treated with hydroxychloroquine while the other 75 were not.

The University of Washington and New York University announced last month that they were beginning a study on whether hydroxychloroquine could be effective at preventing someone from developing COVID-19. It is scheduled to last for eight weeks.

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