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The University of Bern has developed a non-contagious SARS-CoV-2 model

Life sciences

26 October 2021

Researchers of the University of Bern and the Rockefeller University have developed a non-contagious SARS-CoV-2 model that makes it easier to characterize variants and facilitates drug development.

Researchers led by the Nobel Laureate Charles Rice of The Rockefeller University and Volker Thiel of the University of Bern and Institute of Virology and Immunology have developed a non-contagious SARS-CoV-2 model that makes it easier, faster and safer to study the virus and new variants. In addition, the realistic model can be used to better test drugs.

Even though vaccines are now sufficiently available in parts of the world and more drugs are coming to the market, there is still the danger of new variants emerging, which could be more pathogenic and further escape protection by the vaccines. The quicker the properties of such variants can be characterized, the more rapid countermeasures can be taken.

Research with the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to be performed in high biosafety laboratories, which is time consuming and even precludes certain types of experiments. Such experiments include high-throughput drug screening and genetic screening for cellular components, which are essential for viral infection and replication, and thus, represent some of the best drug targets.

Research on SARS-CoV-2 no longer needs to be confined to high biosafety labs

The new versatile viral model system developed in Bern and at the Rockefeller University separates the Spike protein and the coronavirus replication machinery but should still be safe to work with under lower biosafety settings.  

This SARS-CoV-2 model greatly facilitates studies on the properties of the Spike protein and the replication machinery at the same time, which mimics in many ways the life cycle of the natural SARS-CoV-2. Indeed, the researchers could benchmark the new system against the natural virus, and show that immune evasion from antibody binding and inhibition by antiviral drugs, can similarly be studied, but under much safer conditions.