Three teams from the Faculty of Chemistry in Belgrade are working on developing the production of recombinant protein antigens for domestic immunology tests for coronavirus, which would be simpler, quicker and cheaper than the existing PCR test.
The project is led by the team from the Biochemistry Department, and the head of the department, Dr Marija Gavrovic Jankulovic, says that the project entails the production of protein antigens of coronavirus that would be used to detect and measure the quantity of specific antibodies produced as a consequence of coronavirus infection.
– These are structural proteins of the virus which our immune system recognizes as a danger and therefore starts defending the organism. During the infection, specific antibodies are developed whose task it is to help the organism destroy the virus – she explains. – The presence of specific antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 antigens is an indicator that the immune system has activated adaptive immunity. Unlike the test for the presence of specific antibodies in the serum, which shows whether the immune response has been initiated, a positive result of the PCR test points to the fact that the virus is present in the organism. On the other hand, the price of a PCR test is much higher than the price of a test for the presence of specific antibodies – she explains.
Professor Gavrovic Jankulovic says that, in cooperation with the Institute for Application of Nuclear Energy (INEP), the produced protein antigens will be examined for application in the test for detection of specific antibodies for coronavirus.
– Within this cooperation, protein antigens produced at the Biochemistry Department could be a good foundation for the development of the test, all of whose components would be produced in Serbia. Still, in order for said protein antigens to be produced in sufficient quantities, production capacities at the Faculty of Chemistry need to expand, and we expect the state to help. At some point, various protein antigens produced through recombinant DNA technology could be offered in the local market, but also in the foreign market.
Talking about coronavirus and its characteristics, our interviewee emphasizes that, on a structural level, a lot has been learned about the virus. She clarifies that the genome has been determined, and that it is available in databases to the scientific community for analysis.
– The genome also allowed the determination of the proteome, but the virus is mutable, and the mutations sometimes influence the structure of the protein. What cannot be seen from the genome is the presence of sugar components which are present on protein antigens and which viruses often use very aptly to outwit the immune system – professor Gavrovic Jankulovic clarifies.
When asked when she expects the vaccine to appear and who could produce it first, she points out that it is difficult to say and reminds that prestigious institutions worldwide are working to find the vaccine.
– Just as there are various therapies to lower a high body temperature, there are also various approaches in designing and the producing a vaccine against the virus – she emphasizes. – It is to be expected for several vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 to appear in the world market in the foreseeable future. Regardless of the design and the manner of production, what's most important for the vaccine is that it is efficient and safe for the person taking it.
Three Research Teams
Professor Gavrovic Jankulovic emphasizes that three teams of researchers from the Biochemistry Department are working on the project of the production of protein SARS-CoV-2 antigens for the purposes of development and production of domestic immunology tests. The other two teams are led by Dr Tanja Cirkovic Velickovic, the project coordinator, and Dr Radivoje Prodanovic.