The start-up company Codagenix wants to use a live-attenuated virus to trigger a stronger immune response than with a conventional vaccine. This approach has many advantages, but some consider it too risky.
More than 200 coronavirus vaccines are currently in development in the world. They all have adopted different approaches to fighting the disease. However, each of these approaches has its disadvantages: side effects, low efficacy, poor immune response, limited production, etc. Therefore, to tackle some of these disadvantages Codagenix has decided to go for an approach that is much easier and faster to implement: injection of the “real” coronavirus, but in a “weakened” version, so that it replicates less efficiently.
Every virus, whether it is Influenza, Zika, or a rhinovirus, uses the machinery of the host cell (ribosome) to translate its genome and synthesize its proteins. The Codagenix computer algorithm recodes and “de-optimizes” the codons of the viral genes and places the genes in a language that is read more slowly by the ribosome of the host cell. In short, “de-optimized” genes encode the same protein sequences as in the normal virus, but less efficiently.
A virus that is slowed down by a factor of 1,000
While the coronavirus can typically reproduce 100 million times within a cell within 24 hours, its “de-optimized” version produces half of the copies in the laboratory. However, “In the body, it can replicate by a factor of 1,000 less, which gives the immune system more time to respond,” Robert Coleman, president of Codagenix, describes in Technology Review. This resulting virus is not only less pathogenic but also triggers a much stronger immune response than conventional vaccines because all the antigens of the real virus are present in it.
Thus, with a vaccine using a live strain, the body encounters the entire virus and not just parts of it. The body then reacts by producing not only antibodies but also T cells and immunity in the nasal passages, thus extending the overall protection. Last but not least, if the virus mutates, there is no need to develop a new vaccine because the actual strain is used.
An old recipe with a new twist
With its live vaccine, Codagenix simply revives the oldest form of vaccine manufacturing that uses the weakened form of a virus. Vaccines against chickenpox, polio and yellow fever have been developed according to this concept for decades, with the exception that they are usually made in the eggs of chickens or other animals to adapt to this host and become less virulent for humans.
However, despite all the advantages, there are relatively few live viruses based vaccines in the market. You have to constantly tweak the code,” Robert Coleman, CEO of Codagenix, told the New York Times. You never know exactly how the mutations will behave. Hence the idea of using artificial intelligence to find the best possible code.
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