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Anti-COVID-19 Multi-epitope Vaccine Designs Employing Global Viral Genome Sequences

Tahreem Zaheer, Maaz Waseem, Walifa Waqar, Hamza Arshad Dar, Muhammad Shehroz, Kanwal Naz, Zaara Ishaq, Tahir Ahmad, Nimat Ullah, Syeda Marriam Bakhtiar, Syed Aun Muhammad, Amjad Ali

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Background The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the Coronaviridae family that has caused a global public health emergency. Currently, there is no approved treatment or vaccine available against it. The current study aimed to cover the diversity of SARS-CoV-2 strains reported from all over the world and to design a broad-spectrum multi-epitope vaccine using an immunoinformatics approach. Methods For this purpose, all available complete genomes were retrieved from GISAID and NGDC followed by genome multiple alignments to develop a global consensus sequence to compare with the reference genome. Fortunately, comparative genomics and phylogeny revealed a significantly high level of conservation between the viral strains. All the Open Reading Frames (ORFs) of the reference sequence NC_045512.2 were subjected to epitope mapping using CTLpred and HLApred, respectively. The predicted CTL epitopes were then screened for antigenicity, immunogenicity and strong binding affinity with HLA superfamily alleles. HTL predicted epitopes were screened for antigenicity, interferon induction potential, overlapping B cell epitopes and strong HLA DR binding potential. The shortlisted epitopes were arranged into two multi-epitope sequences, Cov-I-Vac and Cov-II-Vac, and molecular docking was performed with Toll-Like Receptor 8 (TLR8). Results The designed multi-epitopes were found to be antigenic and non-allergenic. Both multi-epitopes were stable and predicted to be soluble in an Escherichia coli expression system. The molecular docking with TLR8 also demonstrated that they have a strong binding affinity and immunogenic potential. These in silico analyses suggest that the proposed multi-epitope vaccine can effectively evoke an immune response.