Leiden joins forces to develop improved coronavirus vaccines
A unique public-private consortium (CoVax2) has been initiated aiming to develop improved vaccines against the novel beta-coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), causing the pandemic COVID-19, and other human coronaviruses.
Within a few months, a new infectious disease, named COVID-19, has become a severe pandemic with more than 3 million confirmed cases and more than 200.000 deaths. These numbers are still inclining leading to a worldwide increase in morbidity and mortality, with an unprecedented impact on social and economic burdens. Clearly, there is an unmet need for treating those affected with SARS-CoV-2, and to protect people from getting infected and further spreading the virus. In this respect, a vaccine against COVID-19 is urgently needed as it can protect individuals and indirectly curb viral spread through induction of herd immunity.
International companies/institutes are developing vaccines specific for the Spike viral protein, with the promise to induce neutralising antibodies. The Spike protein is however prone to mutations, and coronaviruses may actually take advantage of antibodies to enhance infection of host cells. Antibody-inducing vaccines based on the Spike protein may thus become less effective over time.
The CoVax2 approach distinguishes itself from other initiatives through combining two strong vaccine platforms and by including corona antigens that elicit both antibody and cellular immune responses and are conserved between virus strains. Essentially, this is build on a concerted effort comprising experts in immunology and corona virology, and on expertise in two synthetic vaccine platform technologies: DNA- and synthetic long peptide (SLP)-based vaccines.
The DNA/SLP-based vaccines, which should generate both neutralizing antibodies and long-lasting T-cell immunity, will be generated and tested both in vitro and in animal models with live coronavirus. In addition, high-dimensional single-cell technologies (CyTOF mass cytometry and RNA sequencing) will be applied to discover correlates of protection. These efforts thus aim to develop a broadly applicable, coronavirus vaccines in order to counteract current and potential future outbreaks.