A recently discovered virus in a Russian bat that is similar to SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, is likely capable of infecting humans and, if it were to spillover, is resistant to current vaccines.

A team lead by researchers in Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health found spike proteins from the bat virus, named Khosta-2, can infect human cells and is resistant to both the monoclonal antibodies and serum from individuals vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2. Both Khosta-2 and SARS- CoV-2 belong to the same sub-category of coronaviruses known as sarbecoviruses.

“Our research further demonstrates that sarbecoviruses 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 and corresponding author of the study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Letko said the discovery of Khosta-2 highlights the need to develop universal vaccines to protect against sarbecoviruses in general, rather than just against known variants of SARS-CoV-2.

“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.”

While hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, predominantly in bats in Asia, the majority are not capable of infecting human cells. The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in Russian bats in late 2020, and it initially appeared they were not a threat to humans.

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