Researchers at Washington State University are concerned over a recently discovered virus similar to COVID-19.
Khosta-2, which was initially found in a Russian bat, belongs to the same sub-category of coronavirus called sarbecoviruses and is capable of infecting to human cells and resisting vaccines.
"Our research further demonstrates that [viruses] circulating in wildlife outside of Asia – even in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was found – also pose a threat to global health and ongoing vaccine campaigns against SARS-CoV-2," said Michael Letko, WSU virologist, in a journal entry for PLoS Pathogens via FOX 35 Orlando.
Letko said the recent discovery of Khosta-2 provides more of a need for universal vaccines to combat sarbecoviruses, rather than specifically targeting SARS-CoV-2 variants.
"Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn’t just protect against the next variant of SARS-2 but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general," Letko said. "Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed to specific viruses we know infect human cells or those that seem to pose the biggest risk to infect us. But that is a list that’s everchanging. We need to broaden the design of these vaccines to protect against all sarbecoviruses."
Researchers said hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, mainly among bats in Asia, but most aren't capable of infecting human cells like SARS-CoV-2 and the new Khosta-2 viruses.
The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were initially discovered in Russian bats in late 2020, however, weren't believed to be capable of infecting humans at the time.
Letko said he and other WSU virologists continued to study the viruses and found that Khosta-1 posed a low risk to humans, while Khosta-2 had "some troubling traits" such as being capable of using its spike protein to infect cells by attaching to a receptor protein found in human cells, similar to SARS-CoV-2.
Additionally, researchers found that Khosta-2 was not neutralized by current COVID-19 vaccines by using serum derived from individuals who were vaccinated.
The new virus is, however, lacking some of the genes that SARS-CoV-2 has that have lead to a global spread among humans, according to Letko, though there's still a threat of the virus combining with another.