Abandoned amid the rush to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine, the second generation of the University of Queensland’s vaccine technology will move to human trials early next year.
- The first vaccine had to be abandoned due to false HIV positives.
- University of Queensland receives $8.5 million funding from CEDI
- Researchers believe the technology could be used against other viruses without a vaccine
UQ scientists were devastated in late 2020 when they had to withdraw from the first race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine after recipients in an early human trial of molecular clamp technology accidentally turned out to be HIV-positive.
But they are hopeful that the next-generation molecular clamp, called Clamp2, will be used to produce future vaccines and save lives without the worry of false positive HIV tests.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has pledged up to $8.5 million to support the further development of Clamp2 for use in the global response to future disease outbreaks.
UQ molecular virologist Keith Chappell said the «proof of concept» human trial of a Clamp2 vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will begin next March in Brisbane.
«We have never lost our belief that this is an essential technology to create vaccines and save lives,» said Associate Professor Chappell.
«It’s been a rollercoaster ride. We’re going high again and we’re feeling really excited about what’s going to happen.»
Professor Chappell said 35 volunteers will be given the Clamp2 COVID vaccine, and 35 volunteers will be given Novavax to compare the UQ technology with an already approved COVID-19 vaccine.
«We believe Clamp2 is as safe and effective as the first vaccine we tested in clinical trials, and we’ve demonstrated this in animal studies,» he said.
«Everything we did was comparing the original platform to the new platform. It performed equivalent or better on every virus we tested, and there is no evidence of any diagnostic interference with HIV tests.»
Other viruses in the field of view
The original clamp technology used in UQ’s first experimental COVID vaccine contained two protein fragments that acted like a chemical bulldog clip that held together an engineered version of the spike protein found in HIV, found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. .
This allowed the immune system to recognize and attack the spike protein, producing protective antibodies.
The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is unstable on its own. In order for the vaccine to produce a strong immune response, it must lock into shape.
Professor Chappell said he could not disclose the details of Clamp2 due to intellectual property concerns.
But he said: «We can assure you that there is no induction of cross-reaction to the HIV diagnosis.»
While Clamp2 will first be tested in human trials of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, Professor Chappell said scientists do not plan to add it to the COVID-19 vaccines already on the market at this stage.
«We didn’t choose SARS-CoV-2 because we thought a new vaccine was needed,» he said.
“The vaccines that are out there are incredibly effective, the level of protection is great, especially if you have multiple boosters.
«But when we compare our technology to the best vaccines available and approved for use, we can say with certainty that our vaccine works.»
Professor Chappell said the UQ team will instead use Clamp2 to develop vaccines against other viruses.
«This technology can be used to make better vaccines for viruses we already know, or for viruses for which there is currently no vaccine, and we are actively pursuing both these areas,» he said.
«We have viruses like HTLV-1, which is a big problem in our Australian Indigenous community, and we’re actively trying to track it down and see if our vaccine can be effective for these kinds of diseases. It’s on the radar of the big pharmaceutical companies.»
Melanie Saville, CEPI’s executive director of vaccine research and development, said the UQ team showed real courage and the power of the scientific process to make tangible advances in vaccine science.
«The second-generation molecular clamp vaccine technology UQ has developed could provide the world with an additional tool to quickly respond to future pandemic threats,» he said.
As part of the university’s partnership agreement with CEPI, UQ agreed that vaccines produced using Clamp2 will be made available to at-risk populations in the event of an outbreak.
The Clamp2 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine batch required for next year’s human trial has been produced in Brisbane at UQ’s National Biology Facility within the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.
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