RESEARCH COLLABORATIONS

Heat Biologics, University of Miami to join vaccine race against COVID-19

SOURCE: Torsten Silz / AFP
Many countries are setting up appropriate measures against the outbreak.


By U2B Staff 

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Amidst the growing global panic due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there are plenty of researchers who are racing against the clock to release a potent vaccine that will be able to effectively contain the spread. 

Biopharmaceutical company Heat Biologics specialises in the development of therapeutic vaccines for various infectious diseases and may have developed an effective vaccine to combat the COVID-19 virus. 

In a strategic collaboration with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the new vaccine will leverage Heat’s proprietary gp96 platform which is designed to target the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

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Heat’s innovative gp96-based vaccines have been tried and tested through clinical and preclinical studies which yielded favourable results indicating that this could be utilised to target COVID-19. 

Up to now, these vaccines have treated more than 300 patients. These positive results, together with National Institutes of Health and Department of Defence-backed animal trials against SIV/HIV 1-2, malaria and zika, have demonstrated that these vaccines express a broad range of antigens and stimulate a robust systemic immune response. 

The COVID-19 vaccine works by generating open docking sites for the insertion of multiple targeted antigens. Heat anticipates that this new approach to vaccines should activate a potent immune response minus disadvantages that come with virus vaccines such as possible genomic integration of foreign DNA or viral vector instability. 

With this approach, the vaccine will not only be effective against the current COVID-19 stain but also against potential future mutations of the virus as well as other types of coronavirus. 

Vaccine
The vaccine will be potent even as the COVID-19 virus mutates. Source: Jung Yeon-je / AFP

Heat’s COVID-19 programme came from the same laboratory that originally developed the gp96 platform technology. It will continue to be developed at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine led by research assistant professor of microbiology and immunology Dr Natasa Strbo. 

Dr Strbo is experienced in advancing research of the gp96 platform as a vaccine against HIV, malaria, zika and other infectious diseases. 

What sets Heat’s gp96-based vaccines aside from the rest is that it targets the induction of mucosal immunity in the respiratory system. This is especially effective since mucosal immunity and airway memory T-cell responses are crucial in the protection against viruses that affect the lungs and airways first. 

Dr Strbo and her team have developed a gp96 vaccine against SIV, the primate equivalent of HIV that has been shown to induce a dramatic antigen-specific immune response in the mucous membranes. 

The results of this trial showed that treated primates were 73 percent less likely to acquire a virulent form of SIV. 

Mucosal immunity and airway memory T-cell responses are crucial in the protection against respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, since these areas are the first to encounter the virus. 

“T-cell immune responses play a crucial role in protection against coronaviruses and facilitation of coronavirus clearance. It is noteworthy to mention that not antibodies, but only SARS-CoV-specific memory T-cells persisted up to 11 years post-recovery,” said Dr. Strbo. 

“Therefore, an effective coronavirus vaccine should induce neutralizing antibodies and elicit specific memory CD8 T cell responses. Currently, gp96 is the most efficient agent known to mediate antigen cross-presentation at femto-molar concentrations of antigen. Heat’s gp96 vaccine platform has unique properties that enable it to activate antigen presenting cells, natural killer cells and T cells, which could make it an ideal vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.”

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The COVID-19 vaccine will be developed by Zolovax, Inc., Heat’s wholly-owned subsidiary. 

Under the research partnership, the University of Miami will develop and test one or more vaccine constructs using the gp-96 vaccine backbone to express antigens related to COVID-19. 

“We are excited about our collaboration with the University of Miami to develop a gp96-based vaccine designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Heat CEO Jeff Wolf. 

“gp96 is a powerful vaccine platform that has been shown to induce a potent immune response, which may protect against COVID-19 and other highly-virulent infectious diseases. We look forward to advancing this important program.”