Russian researchers fully decode COVID-19 genome

Testing COVID-19 vaccines to take no less than six months — scientist

TASS: Russian scientists from the Smorodintsev Research Institute of Influenza have managed to decode the first full genome of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Russian Health Ministry informed on Thursday.

"Specialists of the Smorodintsev Research Institute of Influenza with the Russian Health Ministry sequenced the first full genome of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in Russia from the material taken from a COVID-19 patient," the message informs.

Acting Director of the Smorodintsev Research Institute of Influenza Dmitry Lioznov stated that genetical research would help scientists understand the nature and the evolution of the virus, which would in turn contribute to the development of a vaccine and treatment methods. "This coronavirus is new to us, so it is crucial to have an opportunity to determine the pattern of its spread and entry on the territory of our country, and the way the virus changes. This information will help us work out vaccines and antiviral drugs to treat the coronavirus," the ministry’s press service quotes Lioznov as saying.

The Health Ministry informed that the data had been sent to an international database used by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the world’s leading research teams monitoring the global evolution of the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the director of the clinical research center of precision regenerative medicine at the Kazan Federal University, Albert Rizvanov, who together with a team of researchers has been working on a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, believes that an effective solution may be identified faster if more research teams join the effort, but anyway testing proposed vaccines will take no less than six months.

Rizvanov pointed to the importance of proving the effectiveness and safety of a yet-to-be created vaccine, adding that research into an agent against the HIV had been underway for more than two decades now, but none of the vaccines turned out effective enough.

"Quite often producing a vaccine is tantamount to a tiny one-tenth of the whole job, because the most intricate part of the task is to prove that the vaccine is effective and safe," he told TASS on Thursday.

"The same applies to the coronavirus situation — the more groups join research into the vaccine, the better. Possibly, some will succeed. Many countries and laboratories around the world are working on the problem. Several clinical tests are in progress (no less than five at different stages). The way I see it, the tests [of vaccines being developed around the world] may last six to twelve months," he stated.

The Kazan researcher’s idea is to try to create a vaccine without using a live virus or its purified proteins. This will become possible by using genetic engineering methods and therapy that is also applied in the treatment of hereditary diseases and cancer.

"The gist of the proposed method is to deliver into a living organism the genes of the pathogen, thus evoking an immune response. One of the advantages of this method is that it does not need a live virus or infected material. We can take the decoded genome that has been published and on the basis of this information promptly produce a genetic vaccine like computer software, synthesize it and test on animals. A prototype of the vaccine against the coronavirus will be available no earlier than in six months from now, if we stick to the original schedule," Rizvanov commented.

Once a prototype of the vaccine has been finalized, the researchers will proceed with tests involving a living virus.

Vaccine tests around the world

Earlier, US specialists reported they had begun tests of the first experimental vaccine against the new coronavirus. The Associated Press said the first injection had been made at the research center Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research institute in Seattle, Washington. There have been reports that Russia’s biotechnological company Biocad, in St. Petersburg, had launched research into a vaccine against COVID-19.

In late December 2019, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about an outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, central China. On March 11, WHO officially characterized the situation with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic. The disease has spread to over 170 countries. According to latest reports, over 210,000 people have been infected with the virus globally, and about 8,500 have died. There are 147 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia and one reported death.

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