From 2000 to 2017 the Sabin Vaccine Institute partnered with the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas to develop safe, effective and low-cost vaccines for infectious and neglected tropical diseases. Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development continue this research as of May 2017.

Pathogen: β-Coronavirus, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
Vaccine Candidate: Pan-β-CoVax
Stage of Development: Pre-clinical
Years Sabin conducted research: 2012-2017

Coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, represent a class of emerging infectious diseases of pandemic potential. In close collaboration with a team of partners, Sabin worked to develop a preventative vaccine against these diseases that would be a key component of any comprehensive preparedness plan. 

About the Vaccine

The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) partnered with leading experts to develop an innovative, stable and safe vaccine, Pan-β-CoVax. The partnership identified safe and highly promising lead vaccine antigen candidates, and is now exploring novel vaccine platform that stimulates a robust immune response. The ultimate objective is to produce a vaccine that protects against disease following one dose or two doses spaced closely together so that vulnerable populations could be rapidly immunized in an outbreak setting. In addition, researchers are working to ensure the vaccine is highly stable, so that it can be stockpiled for rapid delivery in an emergency.

The project aims to develop Pan-β-CoVax against current and emerging coronaviruses including MERS, SARS, and newly described SARS-like infections. A highly promising lead candidate vaccine antigen for SARS-CoV. Our overarching hypothesis is that the receptor-binding domains (RBDs) of the major CoVs can be genetically engineered and linked in ways that enable simultaneous immune protection against MERS, SARS and related viruses.


Coronaviruses (CoV) are common throughout the world. Several different coronaviruses can infect humans, usually causing cold-like symptoms. But some coronaviruses, like the ones that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), can cause severe, and even fatal, illness.

The SARS-CoV pandemic that originated in China’s Guangdong Province in 2003 caused over 8,000 infections and 774 deaths. It spread to several countries on multiple continents, causing global panic, before it was finally contained.

MERS-CoV, a novel coronavirus first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, has since caused illness in people in dozens of other countries. Most people infected with MERS-CoV develop severe respiratory illness, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, with a case-fatality rate of nearly 40 percent.

In 2015, MERS-CoV spread to hospitals and clinics in South Korea, resulting in 186 cases. MERS cases continue to increase, causing concerns that the virus could cause a catastrophic epidemic linked to the health systems breakdowns in war-ravaged areas of the Middle East.

Why We Need a Vaccine

Past and ongoing pandemic threats from coronaviruses have prompted a new urgency to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine as a global countermeasure. Both SARS and MERS are classified as Category C biodefense agents by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, with an intense capacity to inflict devastating disease outcomes and disrupt local, national and global economies. CoVs remain a serious global concern mainly due to their potential for zoonotic reintroduction into humans, accidental release from a laboratory or deliberate spreading of the virus through bioterrorism.

Fueling the urgency are observations that just as SARS- and MERS-CoV represent two β-CoVs emerged from bats before their spread to secondary animal reservoirs and then to humans, there are several recently detected novel bat β-CoVs, including two that utilize the same host receptors as SARS-CoV. 


Photo Credit: Anna Grove Photography