The results of a peer-reviewed study of a new SARS-CoV-19 vaccine developed by scientists from Flinders University was published in the journal Vaccine on Thursday.
Animal testing of the South Australian-developed vaccine — which includes a synthetic spike protein that was produced in insect cell cultures — confirmed safety and effectiveness in preventing COVID lung infections.
Lead researcher and Professor of Medicine Nikolai Petrovsky said the published paper showed the vaccine was safe and effective for use in mice and ferrets, indicating that it also had promising potential to inoculate humans.
He added that results showed two doses of the vaccine could prevent COVID-19 lung infection and also prevent shedding of the virus from the noses of the infected animals.
“[The paper shows] critical early data to establish that our adjuvanted protein vaccine is safe and effective in animals (mice and ferrets) and also give a hint that it may also be able to reduce the risk of transmission based on the lack of virus shedding in the noses of ferrets,” Petrovsky said.
The vaccine formula was trialled on mice, and also tested on ferrets in the US. Ferrets are one of the animal species that are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 virus infection like humans.
Petrovsky, who is also research director for Adelaide biotech company Vaxine Pty Ltd, said the study was conducted in conjunction with the Kirby Institute in Sydney and Centre for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia, USA.
The researchers used artificial intelligence and protein engineering to develop what is known as a ‘recombinant protein-based vaccine’, that can be produced at large-scale and remain stable under ordinary refrigerated conditions.
“We’ve now taken this data on lack of nasal shedding and set up a US-based study in the hamster model to specifically test for the ability of our vaccine to reduce transmission to naïve animals,” Petrovsky said.
“A transmission-blocking effect would be a game changer as this is what is currently needed to stop further virus outbreaks.”
The protein-based coronavirus vaccine, named COVAX-19™, that will progress to the final stages of human clinical trials is purified and then has Advax, an Australian developed adjuvant derived from a plant sugar called inulin, incorporated into it.
Professor Petrovsky added that developing vaccines that could block COVID-19 virus transmission and also prevent infection and clinical disease was key to overcoming the pandemic.
“As countries enter their second, third or even higher waves of cases, the world urgently needs more effective vaccines, particularly ones that can provide robust protection against all of the new variants and potentially block transmission,” Petrovsky said.
Four researchers working on the paper are affiliated with Vaxine Pty Ltd, which holds the rights to COVAX-19™ vaccine and Advax™ adjuvants.