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COVID-19: Potential vaccines in profile

15 July 2020

As we finalise details of our role as part of the Government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, we’re progressing work with our collaborators on three potential COVID-19 vaccines, work that has been accelerated thanks to generous philanthropic donations, including from the Hugh Green Foundation.

Vaccine candidate 1: Recombinant spike protein

Self-proclaimed protein ‘mechanic’ Dr Davide Comoletti and his team at Victoria University of Wellington are creating copies of the spike protein on the virus’ surface that give it its distinct ‘corona’ or crown-like appearance and are essential for the virus to gain entry to human cells. The aim is to create a vaccine that will stimulate the immune system to create antibodies against the spike.

Because these proteins are ‘manufactured’ rather than derived from a live virus, Dr Comoletti’s team can make many variations of the protein and test them simultaneously, in order to determine which combinations stimulate the best immune response.

Vaccine candidate 2: Inactivated virus

Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu and his team at the University of Otago, who were the first in New Zealand to isolate the COVID-19 virus in their specialised facility, are leveraging this unique ‘IP’ to develop another potential vaccine.

The team are growing and then ‘inactivating’ large quantities of the virus – treating the virus to eliminate its ability to replicate, yet preserve its structure. This offers a perfect, safe replica for the immune system to recognise and respond to.

Vaccine candidate 3: Pan-coronavirus

Working with international collaborators, Avalia Immunotherapies, led by Chief Executive Dr Shivali Gulab, is exploring whether a pan-coronavirus vaccine – that targets all coronaviruses not just COVID-19 – is a feasible approach.

Before any potential vaccine can make its way into human clinical studies, groundwork must be done to demonstrate it can stimulate an appropriate immune response. The Malaghan Institute’s role is to take these candidates and explore which stimulate the best immune response – one that is neither too weak nor too strong. The next stage is to see whether the immune responses stimulated by these vaccines can successfully inactivate live COVID-19 viruses housed in the University of Otago’s specialised PC3 laboratory, before eventually moving on to clinical testing and safety trials.

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