Novel coronavirus
An electron microscope image of the new strain of coronavirus. Courtesy of NIAID-RML

Scientists at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology reported progress Wednesday in understanding the new strain of Coronavirus in preparation for designing a future vaccine.

An article that will be published in the March 16 edition of Host, Cell and Microbe provides the first analysis of potential targets for developing effective human immune response against the new disease.

The team of researchers, which included colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute, identified 10 epitopes — tiny molecular features that allow cells of the immune system to focus their attack — in the new virus strain.

Having a map of the new coronavirus’ epitopes is critical to researchers attempting to design vaccines.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Alessandro Sette, said the new information “provides a great starting point for vaccine development.”

“Vaccine strategies that specifically target these regions could generate immunity that’s not only cross-protective but also relatively resistant to ongoing virus evolution,” he said.

The work was based on information about other strains of the coronavirus, which are often responsible for seasonal colds.

“SARS-CoV-2 (the virus behind COVID-19) is most closely related to SARS-CoV, which also happens to be the best characterized coronavirus in terms of epitopes,” explains first author Alba Grifoni, a postdoctoral researcher in Sette’s lab.

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is an independent, nonprofit research organization founded in 1988.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.