'This virus will ultimately become endemic': Scientists find key in alpha variant to fight omicron

SAN FRANCISCO -- After nine months of research, UCSF scientists have made a vital discovery that could lead to an endemic.

"We think we've uncovered a key connection that we can ultimately fight not just this variant, but also future variants that we don't even know about yet," said Dr. Nevan Krogan, Director of Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF.

Dr. Krogan welcomed us inside the Quantitative Biosciences Institute lab where his team along with partners across the world uncovered how mutations in the alpha variant are allowing the virus to evade our immune response. The same key mutations outside of the spike protein were also found in the delta and the omicron variant.

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"Certain proteins are being produced at a higher level in that particular virus once the virus infects our cells. These particular proteins are able to inhibit our immune response. It's inhibiting our cells from fighting off infection. Although this was initially focused on the Alpha variant we found that there were similar mutations in the more problematical variants including delta and omicron," said Dr. Krogan.

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Scientists across the world have focused on mutations in the spike protein of the virus. UCSF researchers are taking a different approach by looking at mutations outside of the spike protein and finding key connections to other variants.

Dr. Krogan believes the key to staying one step ahead is in understanding previous variants.

"It's going to come to a point that there will be just combination of mutations that have already existed in previous variants," said Dr. Krogan.

He says a combination of vaccines, boosters and pharmaceuticals will be key in this fight.

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"I think this virus will ultimately become endemic just like influenza, we would have to be dealing with this for the rest of our lives but it won't be as deadly. That is the hope. Every year we will probably need a booster shot of some kind," said Dr. Krogan.

Their Nature paper outlines their findings.

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