New COVID-19 Vaccine on the Block Displays Multi-Variant Potential


The Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI)Duke Human Vaccine Institute and 3M are working together on a potential vaccine that might protect individuals against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as several other coronaviruses. They published their research in Nature.

The vaccine integrates a nanoparticle created by a Duke-led research team and the IDRI’s formulation of 3M’s “3M-052,” which is a compound that stimulates increased levels of “broadly neutralizing antibodies” against several coronavirus strains, including bat coronaviruses. 

The data showed that the adjuvant part of the vaccine offered a vital boost to induce robust protection against SARS-CoV-2 and improved production of antibodies that might offer protection against variants of SARS-CoV-2 that might occur in the future.

An adjuvant is anything added to a vaccine that boosts the immune response. They have been in use for decades and often use alum, an aluminum derivative known to boost the immune response. One advantage of an adjuvant is that it typically requires less viral-based materials to stimulate the response, decreasing the manufacturing resources needed.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic comes amidst an alarming rise of coronavirus-related outbreaks over the past decades,” said Corey Casper, chief executive officer of IDRI. “A pan-vaccine is needed to help end the fight against COVID-19 and be ready for the next pandemic. An effective coronavirus vaccine remains out of reach for millions of people around the globe, and this groundbreaking technology could provide broad protection against coronaviruses now and in the future.”

The investigators also evaluated an mRNA vaccine candidate similar to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that have already received emergency use authorization (EUA). They wanted to see if this mRNA vaccine candidate could generate neutralizing antibodies against coronaviruses other than the one that causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 was the most recent global pandemic, but there have been severe and concerning outbreaks of at least two other coronaviruses in the last two decades, SARS and MERS.

Casper said, “We envision a near future where vaccine adjuvants will offer the type of protection that will be required to prevent respiratory pandemics with coronavirus or influenza. We are working with partners to quickly move these solutions to early phase clinical trials in humans so they can be part of a multi-pronged approach to reduce the chance that something like the COVID-19 pandemic could ever happen again.”

They tested the vaccine against batCoVs, SARS-CoV-1 (SARS), SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), and SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.1.7 (UK variant), P.1 Brazilian variant), and B.1.351 (South African variant) in macaque upper and lower respiratory tracts. The authors noted that the vaccine stimulated cross-neutralizing antibody responses against all of them.

Christopher Fox, vice president of Formulations at IDRI and inventor of the adjuvant formulation technology, stated, “The 3M-052/Alum adjuvant formulation is enabling advanced development of new vaccines against challenging disease targets, including an ongoing Phase I clinical trial with an HIV vaccine candidate.”

IDRI is a nonprofit biotech organization based in Seattle, Washington. It combines scientific research with product development and manufacturing capabilities. For about three decades, much of its research has focused on immune-enhancing technology.

3M developed a small molecule that can act as an adjuvant that is a dual TLR 7 and 8 agonist (3M-052). TLR 7 and TLR8 are typically expressed on different immune cells, so it is designed to activate a broader range of immune cells. It is being tested in vaccines against HIV, malaria, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2. It is also being evaluated in immuno-oncology applications because it had demonstrated potent anti-tumor activity.

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