Multivalent S2-based vaccines provide broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and pangolin coronaviruses

EBioMedicine. 2022 Nov 11;86:104341. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104341. Online ahead of print.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause morbidity and mortality worldwide. Most approved COVID-19 vaccines generate a neutralizing antibody response that primarily targets the highly variable receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein. SARS-CoV-2 "variants of concern" have acquired mutations in this domain allowing them to evade vaccine-induced humoral immunity. Recent approaches to improve the breadth of protection beyond SARS-CoV-2 have required the use of mixtures of RBD antigens from different sarbecoviruses. It may therefore be beneficial to develop a vaccine in which the protective immune response targets a more conserved region of the S protein.

Methods: Here we have developed a vaccine based on the conserved S2 subunit of the S protein and optimized the adjuvant and immunization regimen in Syrian hamsters and BALB/c mice. We have characterized the efficacy of the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other coronaviruses.

Findings: Immunization with S2-based constructs elicited a broadly cross-reactive IgG antibody response that recognized the spike proteins of not only SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also SARS-CoV-1, and the four endemic human coronaviruses. Importantly, immunization reduced virus titers in respiratory tissues in vaccinated animals challenged with SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.351 (beta), B.1.617.2 (delta), and BA.1 (omicron) as well as a pangolin coronavirus.

Interpretation: These results suggest that S2-based constructs can elicit a broadly cross-reactive antibody response resulting in limited virus replication, thus providing a framework for designing vaccines that elicit broad protection against coronaviruses.

Funding: NIH, Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, Garry Betty/ V Foundation Chair Fund, and NSF.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; SARS-CoV-2; Vaccine.