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03 Jan 2021

Doherty Institute receives MRFF funding for COVID-19 vaccine Phase I clinical trial

The Doherty Institute has received just over $1.5 million from the Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to begin the Phase 1 clinical trial of two Melbourne-based COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The Phase 1 trial is a critical stage in the vaccine development process that will see healthy adult volunteers receive the first dose of the vaccine, with researchers evaluating the safety of the candidates and their immune response.

The vaccine candidates have been developed by a team of researchers from the Doherty Institute and the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS). World-leading Australian vaccine manufacturer Seqirus (a CSL company), is providing some materials to enhance vaccine performance.

University of Melbourne’s Professor Terry Nolan AO, Head of Vaccine and the Research Immunisation Group at the Doherty Institute, said these candidates represent a ‘next generation’ vaccine for COVID-19.

“These are very promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and we are delighted the MRFF is extending its support for the program, which will enable the candidates to go into a human Phase 1 clinical trial,” Professor Nolan said.

They focus on the tip of SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, known as the receptor binding domain (RBD), which mediates the virus’s ability to attach and enter the cell. Through targeting the RBD region, the vaccine candidates focus the immune system on blocking virus attachment and infection.

The two candidates provide two distinct approaches to introduce the virus RBD to our immune system to generate antibodies that neutralise viral infectivity:

  1. RBD protein – represents the tip of the spike in an isolated molecular form.
  2. RBD mRNA – represents the virus genetic sequence that codes for the tip of the spike, which will lead to transient production of the RBD protein.

Following encouraging results during preclinical testing, the Commonwealth Government’s support is expediting the process to move research efforts from the lab and into human trials.