Innovate UK has granted a spin-out of Cambridge University, DIOSynVax, £1.9m to begin clinical trials of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
At a microscopic level, SARS-CoV-2 has ‘spiked’ proteins on its surface which can attach to human cells and infect the body, resulting in the development of the COVID-19 disease. Some researchers suggest that by administering a vaccine which blocks the attachment of these proteins, one can stop the development of the disease but this method of immunisation could become outdated as mutations of the spiked proteins have already been observed in many countries.
In order to develop DIOSynVax, a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust studied gene banks of all known coronaviruses, including those that are only found in bats. The team then developed libraries of computer generated antigen structures encoded by synthetic genes that train the human immune system to produce antiviral responses.
Using DNA to target SARS-CoV-2
The innovative team has based its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine around DNA, as opposed to the commonly used RNA approach. Professor Jonathan Heeney, head of the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics at the University of Cambridge, and founder of DIOSynVax, said: “What we end up with is a mimic, a synthetic part of the virus minus those non-essential elements that could trigger a bad immune response.” This approach uses versatile synthetic gene inserts in addition to several different vaccine delivery systems that are used by other pharmaceutical companies.
Once an antigen is identified, the key piece of genetic code that the virus uses to produce the essential parts of its structure is inserted into a DNA parcel known as a vector. The body’s immune cells decode the DIOSynVax antigen and use the information to programme the immune system to produce antibodies against it.
In addition to £400,000 from the DIOSynVax collaboration, the funding from Innovate UK will allow the team to begin clinical trials on the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate in late autumn. The clinical trial will take place at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Southampton Clinical Research Facility at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.