Researchers in Pittsburgh and Boston are moving forward with research into two separate coronavirus vaccine programs against SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The work of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers is detailed in a paper published recently in EBioMedicine, which is published by the Lancet.
Delivery of the vaccine involved a microneedle array to increase potency. The fingertip-sized patch uses dissolvable needles – made of sugar and protein pieces – to deliver the virus’s spike protein into the skin, eliciting an immune response.
Meanwhile, Janssen Pharmaceutical Co, a division of Johnson & Johnson, announced it will partner with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) to support coronavirus vaccine development. Janssen has started preclinical testing of several projects in its work with Dr. Dan Barouch at BIDMC.
They expect to identify a COVID-19 vaccine candidate for clinical trials by the end of the year.
Both programs are benefiting from recent experiences in vaccine development. The Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for example, worked closely with Janssen on developing Zika and HIV vaccines.
Janssen’s coronavirus vaccine development will utilize the company’s AdVac and PER.C6 technologies to rapidly upscale production of an optimal vaccine candidate, according to the company.
This same technology also had been used to develop its investigational Ebola (which also utilizes its MVA-BN technology), Zika, RSV and HIV vaccines.
“We are currently evaluating a series of potential vaccine candidates for COVID-19,” Barouch said. “This collaboration with Janssen is aimed at the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that would allow for rapid development, large-scale manufacturing, and global delivery.”
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen has already been collaborating on COVID-19 vaccine development with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
At the same time, the researchers in Pittsburgh said they were able to act quickly because they had worked with the coronavirus in earlier epidemics.
“We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said co-senior author Dr. Andrea Gambotto, associate professor of surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine. “That’s why it’s important to fund vaccine research. You never know where the next pandemic will come from.”