Can a darkhorse synthetic biology Covid-19 vaccine one-up the frontunners? The Gates Foundation, Amgen bet 'yes'
When the coronavirus broke out, Neil King sat down at a computer at the University of Washington and designed a soccer ball.
King, a professor at the school’s Institute for Protein Design, had built similar soccer balls for other viruses, using modern synthetic biology to riff on one of the most potent innovations in the history of vaccines.
Years ago, researchers learned that, when made with biotechnology, some viral proteins could spontaneously assemble themselves into “virus-like particles,” or VLPs. Although benign, these particles looked like a virus and the bodies recognized them as such, producing fantastic immune responses. Gardasil, Merck’s HPV vaccine, was made this way, potentially saving millions of lives over the next century.
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