The world is rushing to develop a vaccine against Covid-19—and in the Netherlands, several partnerships between public institutions and private companies show promising signs.
Four studies are underway in collaboration with the Dutch government, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, university researchers, multinational health care company Johnson & Johnson, and nonprofit research and development vaccine institute Intravacc.
Researchers at Wageningen Bioveterinary Research and Utrecht University are collaborating with Intravacc to develop an intranasal Covid-19 vaccine.
The vaccine uses a Newcastle disease virus vector, an important target for neutralizing antibodies. Intravacc will use its U.S. Federal Drug Administration-approved Vero cell platform to develop a process that can be scaled quickly for mass production.
Dr. Jan Groen, CEO of Intravacc, said he expects some results by the end of the year. He believes the potential coronavirus vaccine “is quite disruptive compared to all the other candidate concept vaccines.”
“Intravacc is a cutting-edge vaccine development organization with an outstanding track record in vaccine development,” Groen said. “Today 40 percent of all childhood vaccines contain know-how or technology from Intravacc or its predecessors. The world is waiting for a safe and reliable vaccine against Covid-19. We are hopeful that our collaborative effort can be part of the solution.”
Groen claims close collaboration between the private and public sectors is crucial to quickly control virus outbreaks. “Where the private sector plays a key role in large scale production and distribution of a vaccine, the public sector, including universities and government institutions, is quite often in the driver’s seat to develop new and innovative vaccine concepts,” he said. “In case of a pandemic, governments can fast track the registration and approval of emerging vaccines.”
Another potential vaccine is undergoing early human clinical trials. In March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Johnson & Johnson announced an investment of $1 billion into a possible vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical giant’s subsidiary Janssen Vaccines & Prevention, in the city of Leiden.
Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority— an Health & Human Services department— worked with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to identify a vaccine candidate earlier this year. Johnson & Johnson announced in June that trials will include more than than 1,000 participants in Belgium and the U.S. would begin in July.
“To make our vaccine candidate, we use a piece of DNA specifically — one that codes for the coronavirus ‘spike’ protein that latches on to human cells — and we place it inside a dead adenovirus,” said Jake Sargent, senior director of corporate media relations at Johnson & Johnson.
Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause the common cold. Adenovirus vectors—gene carriers—are altered forms and lack the DNA to replicate; therefore, the vaccine cannot cause a cold, and the protein it produces cannot cause harm either.
“When a person receives the vaccine, their cells will make the spike protein, which is recognized by the immune system as foreign, stimulating the production of antibodies and additional immune responses to fight off the virus,” said Sargent. “The process creates an immune memory, which ultimately teaches the body to both recognize and attack the virus.”
Meanwhile, Erasmus Medical is investigating Covid-19 patient reactions to blood plasma from survivors of COVID-19. The ConCoVID study, in partnership with blood bank nonprofit Sanquin, takes place at 15 locations across the Netherlands.
Furthermore, Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical are collaborating with biopharmaceutical companies Harbour BioMed and AbbVie to develop a human monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19. The antibody discovery was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications May 4.
In an update on its website, Utrecht University reported that the antibody “targets the conserved domain of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.”
The report explained, in cell culture studies, the antibody “blocked infection by the SARS-CoV-2 and a second coronavirus SARS-CoV. The antibody is fully human, facilitating its development and minimizing immune-related side effects.”
(Edited by Ruth Doris and Blake French.)
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