A potential SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine being developed by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa is showing promise in pre-clinical trials. The most current data announced in July showed that the vaccine candidate, CiVax™, can neutralize SARS-Coronavirus 2. That news came from Dr. Axel Lehrer, an assistant professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), who is heading a team of scientists in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology in a research collaboration with Soligenix, Inc. (NasdaqCM: SNGX).
CiVax™ brought on rapid immunity after producing antibody responses in lab mice as early as 7 days after the first vaccination. Moreover, the research team believes that because of its construct, it has a unique potential to be manufactured quickly and used in controlling the spread of the current pandemic. The candidate uses a recombinant protein subunit vaccine containing antigens taken from a portion of the virus and grown in a tissue culture- often referred to as the gold standard in vaccine development.
Antigens Are A Powerful Contributor To Immune Response
Antigens are not unique to vaccines. Most vaccines utilize them to help boost immune responses. That known variable helped to jump-start the SARS-CoV-2 development team at JABSOM, who had successfully applied an antigen technology platform that Lehrer and Soligenix originally used to develop an Ebola vaccine. The team also took only eleven months to develop a Zika vaccine that demonstrated protection in monkeys. Lehrer believes that an effective, safe, and potentially heat-stable COVID-19 vaccine could follow that same timeline with the likelihood for therapeutic success supported by effective antigen vaccines being developed for humans to treat hepatitis B and human papillomavirus.
Lehrer suggests that with preclinical data showing promise for its vaccines to treat Ebola, Zika, and now COVID-19, the next step is to take them to human trials. And, with governments around the world supporting expedited drug development, the opportunity to quickly enter human studies is not out of the question, especially with the most recent results showing robust therapeutic value in animal studies. The enthusiasm at JABSOM comes from its candidate showing a virus-neutralizing ability that induced an immune response in mice, which they believe can be duplicated in monkeys and humans.
Moreover, despite there being roughly 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development worldwide, Lehrer believes that the collaboration with Soligenix could deliver a viable product to market that produces strong virus-neutralizing responses and is also built on a platform enabling the rapid and efficient manufacturing of the required antigens.
Soligenix Brings Expertise And Funding Opportunities
The collaboration with Soligenix could prove valuable from the financial side of the development process as well. The company's Public Health Solutions business segment has received millions in government grants and contract awards and may be well-positioned, based on the now published pre-clinical data, to benefit from additional public and private funds available to companies showing meaningful ability to produce an effective vaccine.
Further, based on the expected total number of vaccine doses required to control the ongoing pandemic, experts are suggesting the need for multiple vaccines, based on different manufacturing platforms to vaccinate the worldwide population efficiently. This necessity creates broad opportunity for subunit vaccines, which are highly recognized for vaccine safety but remain relatively underrepresented in fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Soligenix and JABSOM believe that they may be able to change that dynamic. And its CiVax™ vaccine may lead the way.
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