Development of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19

Liu, Jun | $416,483

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

The current COVID‑19 pandemic is a worldwide threat. Moreover, the ability of asymptomatic carriers to transmit the disease is making it very difficult to contain and control. As such, safe and effective vaccines against COVID‑19 are urgently needed. The goal of this research project is to develop effective vaccines to combat COVID-19. Combining our expertise in coronaviruses, vaccine development and viral vector engineering, we plan to take novel approaches to develop highly effective vaccines against COVID-19. We will use a helper-dependent adenoviral (HD-Ad) vector to deliver antigens and we will also generate a bacterium-based BCG-COVID-19 compound vaccine. The HD-Ad vectors that we will use offer several advantages over the conventional Ad vectors: 1) they are safer for human use and potent in the delivery of specific antigens, 2) they have a large DNA carrying capacity for expressing multiple antigen genes without the expression of non-specific antigens from the vector and 3) they produce antigens in their native folded form with proper glycosylation and may not require boosting. BCG is an attenuated bacterium and the approved vaccine against tuberculosis in humans. In addition to its specific immune protection against TB, BCG has non-specific benefits as it prevents about 30% of infections with pathogens including viruses. We will construct a recombinant BCG that secretes a fusion protein composed of the bacterial protein antigen 85A fused to the SARS-CoV-2 RBD. This recombinant vaccine will not only retain BCG’s nonspecific anti-viral benefits but will also produce specific immune protection against COVID-19. The success of this project will allow us to proceed with the production of the clinical grade vaccines for further testing clinically more than one vaccines while establishing a collaboration with a Canadian biotech that can oversee the licensing and large-scale production of this vaccine for the Canadian market.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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