Genetic Engineering Could Make a COVID-19 Vaccine in Months Rather Than Years

Genetic Engineering Could Make a COVID-19 Vaccine in Months Rather Than Years

On January 10, when Chinese researchers published the genome of a mysterious, fast-spreading virus, it confirmed Dan Barouch’s greatest worry. The genome was similar to that of the coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak, yet it also had striking differences. “I realized immediately that no one would be immune to it,” says Barouch, director of virology and vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Within days, his laboratory and dozens of others around the world started designing vaccines that they hoped could protect billions of people against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the biggest challenge to global health and prosperity since World War II. By early April, almost 80 companies and institutes in 19 countries were working on vaccines, most gene-based instead of using traditional approaches, such as those that have been employed in influenza vaccines for more than 70 years. 

The labs predicted that a commercial vaccine could be available for emergency or compassionate use by early 2021—incredibly fast, given that vaccines to brand-new pathogens have taken a decade to be perfected and deployed. Even the Ebola vaccine, which was fast-tracked, to...

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