Updated: Mar 28, 2020
The tendency of coronaviruses to undergo mutation and recombination represents a significant challenge for vaccine development. To date, no vaccine has been produced that can provide highly effective, long-term protection against respiratory coronavirus infections. Genetic approaches represent the best hope of overcoming this propensity for mutability, according to workshop presenters. For example, it might be possible to find ways to limit RNA-RNA homologous recombination, or to identify areas in the genome that are more or less prone to survive mutation. Promising approaches to these challenges include the use of reverse molecular genetics to make specific mutations in the virus genome and test their functional effects.
Workshop presenters emphasized that appropriate animal models are needed immediately to advance the development of a SARS vaccine. Participants also noted that studies in existing animal models of coronavirus infection could play a role in the development of antiviral therapies against SARS. Ultimately, a range of natural and transspecies disease models will be critical to understanding the pathogenesis of this and other emerging zoonoses. Coordinated, multidisciplinary research drawing on expertise in veterinary sciences, medicine, molecular biology, and virology will be needed to meet these goals. However, the coronavirus experts who presented at the workshop lamented that there is little encouragement or support for such critical cross-disciplinary research at present.