Over the past 20 years, SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2 have spread in humans, to greater and lesser extents, demonstrating the potential for multiple coronaviruses to cause disease and disrupt nations. It is plausible, perhaps likely, that other coronaviruses, including strains with pandemic potential, will start affecting humans over the next 20 years.
With COVID-19 revealing the cost of failing to prepare for and act early against pandemic pathogens, the current crisis may create a lasting demand for technologies that can help countries stop a repeat of the situation they have faced this year. Drugs and vaccines that target parts of coronaviruses present in multiple strains could address that demand.
DIOSynVax is working on such a vaccine. Starting from the genetics of all sequenced coronaviruses, the University of Cambridge spinout has created synthetic DNA that encodes for computer-generated antigen structures designed to induce immunity against multiple pathogens.
“We’re looking for chinks in its armour, crucial pieces of the virus that we can use to construct the vaccine to direct the immune response in the right direction. Ultimately, we aim to make a vaccine that will not only protect from SARS-CoV-2, but also other related coronaviruses that may spill over from animals to humans,” said Jonathan Heeney, the founder of DIOSynVax.
Working with the UK government grant and £400,000 of its own money, DIOSynVax plans to start a clinical trial of a vaccine derived from that approach in the coming months.
The experimental candidate is one of several DNA vaccines in development. Like Inovio, DIOSynVax plans to administer its coronavirus vaccine into the skin without the use of a needle.
DIOSynVax plans to use the PharmaJet Tropis intradermal needle-free device to deliver its vaccine. Once inside the body, the vector will enter cells and use their machinery to generate the targeted antigen structure.
The release of the antigen structure should trigger an immune response, potentially equipping the vaccinated individual to recognize and fight off a coronavirus as soon as it enters the body.
Other companies including Valo Therapeutics and VBI Vaccines are also working on vaccines that protect against multiple coronaviruses. Evidence that antibodies against SARS cross-react with the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus offer some encouragement for the programs.