Corona Research: Current Trends and Latest Results

The coronavirus pandemic has kept our world in suspense for approximately two years. Although Covid-19 seems to have lost most of its horror, research has not stopped. While in Germany, restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 are being withdrawn and public life is returning to normal, science is continuing to research SARS-CoV-2 and its mutations. At analytica 2022, the medical industry and corona research institutes will present the latest technologies and methodologies in the fight against the virus.

What is new in corona research?

On May 5, 2022, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) published the study requested by scientists, policy-makers and the broadest sections of the population: It expects a vaccine against the Omicron variant to be approved by the end of September 2022 at the latest. This means that new restrictions will finally no longer seem inevitable in the coming winter—for some it sounds too good to be true! According to the EMA, the greatest opportunities for the rapid approval of their mRNA vaccines exist for the companies BioNTech and Moderna.

Who is researching corona?

Dr. Peggy Riese, a scientist in the Department of Vaccine Research at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany, deals with the special features of the immune system in combination with vaccines. She describes mRNA vaccines as the current top product, but at the same time praises the properties of protein vaccines:

“Protein vaccines belong to the classic types of vaccines, as we know them from influenza vaccines, for example. The new protein vaccine Nuvaxovid contains the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and additionally an active ingredient enhancer to better activate the immune response. The results of the clinical trials are very promising: They show that people vaccinated with them are very well protected against a severe course of disease. Unfortunately, this vaccine, like the mRNA vaccines, does not protect against infection. Whether the immune response will last longer will only become apparent over the course of time.”

What is the status of corona vaccine research?

Overall, coronavirus research distinguishes four types of vaccines: mRNA, vector, live and so-called dead vaccines.

mRNA vaccines, in turn, use a messenger molecule which transports the blueprint of the respective virus into the human cell.

Live vaccines contain pathogens whose disease-causing properties have been grown in culture mediums. Nevertheless, they can still multiply and are therefore referred to as “viable”.

Dead vaccines, on the other hand, contain killed pathogens, that is to say pathogens which are no longer capable of reproduction. This also includes vaccines which contain only constituents or individual molecules of these pathogens.

Vector vaccines use non-dangerous viruses, called vectors, as a means of transport for molecules (antigens) of the respective pathogen.

All vaccines work according to the principle of exposing the human body to a harmless form of the original viral DNA, so that it produces antibodies against the virus in a preventive manner. In the event of infection with the original pathogen, these antibodies then prevent the outbreak of the disease.

There are currently five approved vaccines in Germany:

Comirnaty is an mRNA vaccine for protection against infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been approved in the EU since Dec. 21, 2020. BioNTech Manufacturing GmbH is the holder of the license.

Spikevax (COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna) is an mRNA vaccine for protection against infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been approved in the EU since Jan. 6, 2021. Moderna Biotech Spain, S.L. is the holder of the license.

Jcovden (COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen) is a vector vaccine for protection against infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been approved in the EU since March 11, 2021. Janssen-Cilag International NV is the holder of the license.

Vaxzevria is a vector vaccine or protection against infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been approved in the EU since January 29, 2021. AstraZeneca AB, Sweden, is the holder of the license.

Nuvaxovid (NVX-CoV2373) is a protein-based for protection against infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been approved in the EU since December 20, 2021. Novavax CZ a.s. is the holder of the license.

Source: Paul-Ehrlich Institute

How far advanced is corona research?

Together with colleagues from Erlangen-Nuremberg, scientists from the University of Siegen are currently researching revolutionary methods for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 and other viral diseases. The reasons are that Covid-19 rapid tests for the home are not 100 % reliable. On the other hand, PCR tests produce clear results, but are also expensive, time-consuming and can only be evaluated by trained specialists and laboratories.

The MATISSE research project aims to detect virus particles using biochips and terahertz radiation. “Terahertz rays can excite characteristic oscillations in biologically significant molecules. This results in strong resonances that can be measured by a terahertz receiver,” scientist Dr. Anna Wigger explained. The team led by project leader Prof. Dr. Peter Haring Bolívar would like to apply “capture molecules” to the biochips developed in Siegen, which exactly match the characteristic structures of virus particles and can retain them on the chip surface. If a terahertz measurement is subsequently carried out on the chip, the resonance frequency of the sensor changes. The virus sought could thus be detected without any doubt.

If their studies are successful, tests for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses can become reality in just a few years, providing reliable results within minutes. And can also be carried out in any doctor's office.

Interview with experts on the current state of research

COVID-19 Research

How long does vaccine development take?

It usually takes several years, sometimes even decades, for science to develop a vaccine against a novel pathogen. In the context of the corona pandemic, research has been able to drastically shorten this process: Between 2020 and 2021, only approx. six months elapsed between the first trials and the approval of a vaccine against Covid19. This was, of course, primarily due to the immense logistical and financial effort that governments and industry put into this. But the good preparatory work of science also made its contribution: As early as 2002/03, the first mRNA vaccines were tested in human subjects. In 2017, just a few years before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, they reached market maturity. This was a basic technology for the first Covid19 vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer.

If a vaccine against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, as predicted by the EMA, were to be approved in autumn 2022, this process would have been successful again in less than one year.

What breakthrough exists in corona research?

The immunologist Dr. Stefanie Kreutmair from the University of Zurich recently demonstrated a genetic disposition for severe courses of SARS-CoV-2. According to her team's research, people with severe coronavirus courses have an exceptionally low concentration of killer T-cells in their blood. This year, she will receive the Theodor Frerichs Prize of the German Society of Internal Medicine for her results.

How are medicines for the coronavirus developed?

In the field of pharmaceuticals, scientists distinguish three types of drugs in the fight against the pandemic:

  • Vaccinations protect against infections and severe course of events.
  • Antiviral drugs block the proliferation of the virus.
  • Antibody drugs prevent viruses from entering a patient's cells.

It usually takes ten years or more to develop medications for novel diseases such as Covid-19. However, research has also progressed rapidly in the field of therapeutic agents against SARS-CoV-2 and its symptoms during the pandemic. This is due to several factors: Since this was (and still is) a global challenge, many institutions have worked together on the same subject. The governments’ financial backing for the research companies was also crucial, since drug development usually poses a significant financial risk for a pharmaceutical company. Cutting red tape and speeding up approval procedures did the rest. In addition, an above-average number of volunteers came forward during the corona pandemic, which in turn was only possible due to the high number of infections.

It took fewer than two years to develop a coronavirus medication from the test on the first patient to market maturity—another record in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists and doctors do not proceed differently in their studies than in the research of conventional drugs. As soon as a promising preparation has been developed, extensive (long-term) studies on patients or subjects begin. The regular approval process of the various drug authorities is carried out based on proof of efficacy and safety.

Of course, state-of-the-art laboratory technology is used in research and diagnostics. analytica 2022 is presenting revolutionary methodology and the current state of laboratory technology of global, renowned manufacturers.

You can see which industry leaders and which up-and-coming, young coronavirus research companies will be there in the list of the Exhibitor Directory.

Analytics news with a plus: analytica-world news

analytica-world news is the industry's leading newsletter. It keeps you up to date 365 days a year in the field of laboratory technology, diagnostics and biotechnology. You want to stay up-to-date? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter directly online.

Unique supporting program dealing with laboratories and corona

In addition to the trade fair, our analytica conference and the extensive supporting program offer unique insights into current theory and practice in the field of coronavirus research.