Decoys, chimps and spiky proteins: inside the race for a vaccine
Oxford and Imperial College London have the defence-building goal, but are going at it in very different ways
Both main British projects to develop a vaccine – one at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute led by Sarah Gilbert, the other at Imperial College London led by Robin Shattock – aim to force the body to build defences against the life-threatening SARS-CoV-2 virus before actually encountering it.
They do this by introducing the body to something that looks like the virus, initiating an immune response, without actually causing the Covid-19 disease itself. In particular, they are looking to mimic a distinctive spike-shaped protein on the surface of the coronavirus. They hope this decoy will provoke the body to generate antibodies that will, if needed, destroy the real thing.
But though the two projects have similar aims, their methods of provoking this antibody response are quite different...