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Your Position: Home > Insights > Viruses and Vaccines: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Viruses and Vaccines: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Release time: 2022-10-19 Source: ACROBiosystems Read: 6518

Viruses and
Vaccines:
Two Sides of the
Same Coin

A Talk with Dr. Pingju Ge

‘Prevention is the best medicine’. This is a saying as old as time, which has never been more relevant, nor more important in our current healthcare climate. Preventative medicine is one of the three key pillars in healthcare, alongside diagnostics and treatment, and is arguably one of the most difficult disciplines. Vaccines, a key tool for preventative medicine, has found itself being questioned across various domains, including industrial, social, and political challenges. Factors such as lack of funding, viral mutations, and more recently, public misinformation, have hampered vaccine development and distribution programs. However, with the occurrence and subsequent persistence of COVID-19, vaccines have found itself back in the spotlight with renewed interest. In the post-COVID era, what does this mean for vaccines, viruses, and their variants in the future?

To help us understand more about the current landscape of vaccines and its interaction with infectious diseases, we invite Dr. Pingju Ge, our resident expert here at ACROBiosystems to have an open discussion with us. Alongside her expertise on vaccine manufacturing, Dr. Pingju Ge has been following the progress of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic from its beginning and guiding ACROBiosystems’ development of critical reagents and kits for vaccine manufacturing.

Let’s jump into the biggest question that we are all wondering about. Many countries are finally re-opening their borders and re-establishing travel and tourism. Does this mean that the pandemic is finally over?

This is definitely a hard question to answer. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everybody. I think it would be prudent to continue to monitor the progression of the pandemic and development of new vaccines. With the continuous occurrence of new mutations and sporadic outbreaks, it is extremely hard to predict what will happen next. Since over 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, I do not believe that we need to revert to quarantines and shutdowns; however, keeping up to date with COVID booster shots and ensuring your own safety during traveling is still essential, especially for the at-risk populations.

The development and distribution of vaccines was a pivotal factor during the COVID pandemic. With most of the population being fully vaccinated, what is the future of COVID vaccines?

The vaccines that were initially developed and distributed were based on the wild-type of SARS-CoV-2, the lineage that was found in Wuhan at the end of 2019. Since then, new variants have replaced the original as the dominant variant. Currently, this refers to BA.4 and BA.5, with a subvariant BA.2.75, which is widely predicted to be the next dominant variant.

A key thing to note is that these new variants are a culmination of over 30 or more mutations. The viral structure has already completely changed, affecting the efficacy of the original vaccines developed. Currently, the existing vaccines still prevent severe illness and death, but are increasingly unable to manage infection.

As such, the development of newer vaccines, such as bivalent vaccines or mutant-specific booster shots, are becoming a priority to recharge everybody’s immunity, prevent disease spread, and protect the at-risk population.

Do you believe that the existing vaccine boosters are sufficient to stop the further development of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Several studies have confirmed that vaccine boosters can increase the titer of neutralizing antibodies and improve overall vaccine protection. Especially with the upcoming booster & bivalent vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, initial clinical results have proven that these new mutant-specific boosters are more effective against the current dominant strains than the original booster shots. As more mutant-specific booster shots and bivalent vaccines begin to launch, it can be expected that infection rates will decrease along with hospitalization and deaths. Whether it is sufficient to stop the pandemic remains to be seen, as vaccine development is only the first step toward infection management. However, with the new mRNA vaccine technology platform, newer, variant-specific vaccines can be developed in a shorter amount of time. This is a huge advantage when combating highly infectious diseases.

During vaccine development, a big point of contention was over its efficacy, especially between the two technological platforms available (mRNA vs live attenuated). Which vaccine development platform is better and how are they evaluated?

With the recent development of vaccines using the mRNA platforms, there are currently 7 different types of vaccines, each of them with their own advantages and disadvantages. Certain types of vaccines might be more effective when targeting specific viruses, but there is no clear winner between the types of vaccines.

 

Regarding COVID-19, mRNA vaccines’ key advantage lies in its short manufacturing cycle which is especially beneficial in combating highly infectious and rapidly mutating viruses. Despite the differences, vaccines are all evaluated the same way: safety, immunogenicity, and clinical efficacy. Safety ensures that there are no toxic or abnormal side effects to the vaccine. Immunogenicity evaluates the ability of a vaccine to provoke an immune response. This should be tested through various in vitro assays such as anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody titer and quantifying cytokine secretion by T cells. Lastly, clinical efficacy should be established through clinical endpoints such as reductions in asymptomatic/symptomatic infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. All three of these studies are a critical part of the preclinical and clinical phases during vaccine development.

Moving forward, how will ACROBiosystems continue to contribute to vaccine research, development, and manufacturing?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ACROBiosystems was able to develop a reliable strategy and development platform to support vaccine manufacturers in their fight against viruses and infectious diseases. We are still monitoring the progression of SARS-CoV-2 across the world and will continuously offer new variant products, including antibodies, antigens, and kits. Outside of SARS-CoV-2, we also offer a series of antigens and antibodies targeting influenza, HIV, and varicella-zoster virus. We plan to continuously monitor both the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging diseases to offer products that accelerate the development and manufacturing of vaccines across the globe.

Dr. Ge Pingju

Associate director of biological analysis services, in charge of the bio-assay development of proteins, antibodies, ELISA kits and other related products of ACROBiosystems.

● Over 7 years experience in the development and validation of methods for biological activity analysis of biological macromolecules.

● Over 5 articles related to the industry have been published.

● Published 6 patents.

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