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Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have discovered vaccine targets with the potential to facilitate the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Genetic sequences of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are closely related to SARS, a type of coronavirus responsible for an outbreak in 2003.

HKUST team identified certain B cell and T cell epitopes derived from SARS. These epitopes are protein fragments capable of inducing an immune response against SARS, expected to trigger a similar response against SARS-CoV-2.

Furthermore, according to the team, the findings could aid the development of effective Covid-19 vaccines.

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By GlobalData

HKUST professor Matthew MCKAY said: “While an effective SARS vaccine was never formally released, a lot of experiments had been done to identify SARS epitopes that can induce an immune response in humans.

“Among the SARS epitopes that can trigger an immune action, we found a small fraction which exists in both SARS and COVID-19, with their genetic sequences being exactly the same. We believe these are the most likely candidates which can trigger an immune response against Covid-19.”

Furthermore, a population coverage analysis by the team revealed that the identified T cell epitopes could stimulate an immune response in a large portion of the population across the world.

McKay further added: “Our objective was to try to assist with the initial phase of vaccine development, by providing recommendations of specific epitopes that may potentially be considered for incorporation in vaccine designs.

“More generally, our work is part of a large global effort seeking to capitalize on data for COVID-19, made available and rapidly shared by the scientific community, to understand this new virus and come up with effective interventions.”