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Common cold "key" to universal COVID vaccine

Monday January 10th 2022

British scientists unveil new evidence today of how exposure to the common cold may help protect against COVID.

The scientists pinpoint T cells generated by common cold coronaviruses as key to the extra protection.

The study, undertaken at Imperial College, London, is published in *Nature Communications*.

The effect is powerful enough to point the way to a universal vaccine against COVID, according to the researchers.

The findings come from a study of 52 people exposed to COVID infection risk in September 2020. Half of them were infected by the virus.

Analysis of blood samples showed "significantly" greater levels of cross-reactive T-cells, from the common cold, in the 26 who were not infected than in those who were infected.

Researcher Dr Rhia Kundu said: "Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn't always result in infection, and we've been keen to understand why. We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection. While this is an important discovery, it is only one form of protection, and I would stress that no one should rely on this alone."

Fellow researcher Professor Ajit Lalvani said: "Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection. These T cells provide protection by attacking proteins within the virus, rather than the spike protein on its surface. The spike protein is under intense immune pressure from vaccine-induced antibody which drives evolution of vaccine escape mutants.

"In contrast, the internal proteins targeted by the protective T cells we identified mutate much less. Consequently, they are highly conserved between the various SARS-CoV-2 variants, including omicron. New vaccines that include these conserved, internal proteins would therefore induce broadly protective T cell responses that should protect against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants."

*Nature Communications* 10 January 2022

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Pharmaceuticals | Respiratory | UK News

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