General, Research, Technology

Engineering vaccine: how to deal with future pandemics?

In 1918, the most bloodythat moment is war. This year also marked the beginning of a new war. Having put an end to the massacre among people, nature took this prerogative upon itself and began to wreak havoc. The flu epidemic of 1918-1919 claimed about 20-40 million lives, more than World War I, and killed more people in one year than the bubonic plague in four years.

“For four and a half years, medicine has devoted itselfkeeping people on the line of fire, ”wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1918. "Now she must fall in all her might at the worst enemy of all - infectious diseases."

Could such a deadly virus reborn? Yes. The question is whether we will be ready for this.

Speaking at a conference dedicated toexponential medicine at Singularity University, Dr. George Post suggested that we are not paying enough attention to the risk of another global pandemic.

“We have been pacified by our continued focus on global infectious diseases,” says Post. “We have an inadequate state of threat surveillance.”

The post is a professor of innovation in the field ofHealth and Adaptive Systems Researcher at Arizona State University. In his speech, he outlined diseases around the world over the past decade. From Chikungunya virus to Ebola and Zika, the doctor says, dormant diseases flare up again and new ones continue to appear. The latest Ebola epidemic killed 10,000 people, and Zika virus is spreading rapidly.

Bad viruses are developing rapidly. “It's a kind of arms race,” says Post.

The biggest problem, according to Post, ishow fast can we deploy our defenses. Speed ​​is paramount. But when it comes to the development and production of vaccines, there is no speed. Diagnostic tests are developed up to one year; vaccines - from three to ten years.

Even if we threw all our vaccine manufacturing capabilities to fight one virus, the total capacity would be about 900 million doses for a population of 7 billion.

To deal effectively with the future pandemic potential virus - Post calls it Agent X - we need to answer the following questions:

  • How to find out what to defend against?
  • How to make a new vaccine?
  • How to distribute drugs?
  • How to make them available?

He believes that new technologies like fast genome sequencing, advanced computing and protein engineering will lead to faster and more efficient solutions in the future.

Vaccine production for the most partbiological, notes Post. The virus we are interested in is the starting point for creating a new vaccine. It is necessary to accelerate this process by creating molecular components of vaccines from scratch.

For this, says Post, we will need powerfulComputers for analyzing, modeling, and cataloging the structure of molecules that stimulate immunity. This immunological library will outline the rules for interacting with new invaders.

“If Agent X gets to us - and if we havethese rules are at hand - we can sequence the agent X's genome in a matter of days, even hours, ”says Post. This genome will tell us which proteins the virus produces and which antigens we need to synthesize.

Then we will need to use our ability to change proteins and produce the vaccine itself by engineering.

Fasting says this is the world to which wemoving, even if it is still imperceptible. To analyze complex three-dimensional structures of proteins and determine how they add up, a lot of computing power is needed, and chemical synthesis of proteins remains a serious problem for scientists.

But since genome sequencing methods,computing power and protein engineering are developing and converging, we are waiting for a world that can quickly and large-scale respond to future viral threats. Effectively using globally distributed chemical production and having a clear vaccine production plan, we could increase production capacities in hundreds of millions or billions of doses.