To develop a coronavirus vaccine, synthetic biologists try to outdo nature
Even as companies rush to develop and test vaccines against the new coronavirus, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are betting that scientists can do even better than what’s now in the pipeline.
If, as seems quite possible, the Covid-19 virus becomes a permanent part of the world’s microbial menagerie rather than being eradicated like the earlier SARS coronavirus, next-gen approaches will be needed to address shortcomings of even the most cutting-edge vaccines: They take years to develop and manufacture, they become obsolete if the virus evolves, and the immune response they produce is often weak.
With Gates and NIH funding, the emerging field of synthetic biology is answering the SOS over Covid-19, aiming to engineer vaccines that overcome these obstacles. “It’s all of us against the bug,” said Neil King of the University of Washington, who has been part of the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine since 2017.