Early pre-clinical testing has shown the University of Queensland's (UQ) COVID-19 vaccine candidate has been able to raise high levels of antibodies that can neutralise the virus.
UQ has been tasked by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and is collaborating with the Peter Doherty Institute to demonstrate and understand its immune response.
UQ project co-leader Professor Paul Young says the results are an excellent indication the vaccine has worked as expected.
"This is what we were hoping for, and it's a great relief for the team given the tremendous faith placed in our technology by CEPI, Federal and Queensland Governments and our philanthropic partners," says Professor Young.
"We were particularly pleased that the strength of the antibody response was even better than those observed in samples from COVID-19 recovered patients."
University of Melbourne Professor Kanta Subbarao, from the Doherty Institute, tested samples provided by the UQ team and found high levels of antibodies capable of neutralising infection by the live virus in cell culture.
"This is a very important finding because similar immune responses with SARS vaccines in animal models were shown to lead to protection from infection," Professor Subbarao.
These results, along with the collaboration with Viroclinics Xplore in the Netherlands, keeps the UQ vaccine's accelerated timeframe on track.
Joint UQ project leader Dr Keith Chappell says the team had decided early on that ensuring a robust package of pre-clinical and safety data was critical before initiating a clinical trial, and they hope to have those results in early June.
"Viroclinics Xplore is investigating in more detail the vaccine's ability to protect from direct challenge by the live virus in multiple animal models, and without this partnership this just wouldn't have been possible in this time frame with the capabilities we have here in Australia," says Dr Chappell.
The group recently announced a collaboration with Cytiva to enable key manufacturing activities and discussions are ongoing with other commercial entities.
Program director Professor Trent Munro says every day matters in the race to bring this science forward, and while there were no guarantees of success, the support received to date is letting the team move at an unprecedented speed.
"When you start combining clinical readiness with scale-up manufacturing, the costs quickly escalate and our primary goal here was to try and break down the financial constraints as much as we could," says Professor Munro.
Other commercial partners include Lonza, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Syneos Health, and the team has also been given access to key adjuvant technology from CSL/Seqirus, Dynavax and GSK.
Updated at 9:34am AEST on 29 April 2020.
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