A molecular clamp is a polypeptide used to maintain the shape of proteins in experimental vaccines. On a virus, pre-fusion proteins on their surface provide an attractive target for an immune reaction. However, if these proteins are removed or made by recombinant technology, they lose their shape and form what is called a post-fusion form. When part of a virus, these proteins maintain their form by forming a quaternary structure with other viral proteins. The pre-fusion state of the protein is a higher energy metastable state. The extra energy is used to overcome the activation barrier of the fusion to the cell membrane. The virus protein (or part of it) in combination with the clamp polypeptide is called a chimeric polypeptide.
Pre-fusion proteins (or subunits) from the following viruses have been stabilised in experiments by the molecular clamp technique: measles, HIV, influenza, ebola and RSV. Researchers at University of Queensland are trying to make a vaccine using this method for the SARS coronavirus 2. Development was funded by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations which in turn received funding from the Gates Foundation as well as Norwegian, Japanese and German governments.
The clamp is made from amino acid residues in a pattern that repeats every seven for at least 14. The clamp self assembles into a twin helix with one strand going forward and the other in reverse. The pairing of the amino acids in the strands is ensured by a pattern of hydrophobic and hydrophilic acids. The pattern is arranged so that none of the clamp will bind to the protein from the virus. The clamp self assembles into a stiff rod. The clamp is linked to the desired part of the virus protein by a linker. The linker may serve other functions, such as allowing the chimeric protein to be purified from a mixture.
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- "Molecular Clamp: a Novel Protein Vaccine for Influenza, RSV, Ebola and Other Human and Veterinary Viruses". www.pharmalicensing.com.
- Hennessy, James. "Australia's Been Asked to Make a Coronavirus Vaccine at 'Unprecedented Speed'". ScienceAlert.
- Grigg, Angus (15 January 2019). "Gates Foundation backs University of Queensland vaccine bid". Australian Financial Review.
- WO application 2018176103, "Chimeric Molecules And Uses Thereof", published 4 October 2018