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22 Jun 2021

Melbourne second generation COVID-19 vaccines receive significant funding boost

The Victorian Government will invest $5 million to support Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) to manufacture doses of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to progress the experimental candidate to Phase 1 clinical trials.

The candidate is part of a combined research program that is developing two related second generation COVID-19 vaccines. This program is funded by two Medical Research Future Fund grants administered by the Doherty Institute – one for the preclinical vaccine research and development, and one for the Phase I clinical trial in human volunteers.

The candidates 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.

The development of one of these vaccines, a recombinant protein, is being led by the Doherty Institute’s Professors Dale Godfrey, Damian Purcell, David Jackson and Dr Georgia Deliyannis.

Monash University Professor of Pharmaceutical Biology Colin Pouton heads up the MIPS arm of the team developing the mRNA vaccine. CSL’s vaccine company, Seqirus, is contributing expertise and other resources for development of the protein candidate.

“The investment by the Victorian Government into establishing Victoria’s mRNA manufacturing capability presents exciting opportunities to develop life-saving vaccines and therapeutic treatments for all Australians,” Professor Pouton said.

Doherty Institute Professor Terry Nolan is leading the clinical trial that will evaluate both the candidate vaccines at the same time.

In addition to a possible role as an initial ‘priming’ vaccine, these vaccines could have a future role as a booster for individuals already primed with other first-generation vaccines.

“With this extra boost in funding, both candidates will be able to advance to the planned Phase I clinical trial by the end of the year,” Professor Nolan said.

Through targeting the RBD, both vaccine candidates focus the immune system on blocking virus attachment and infection. Importantly, both forms of vaccines can be readily adapted as new SARS-CoV-2 variants arise.

“This is an exciting collaborative story with a protein and mRNA vaccine, two very different types of vaccine, that both target the RBD part of SARS-CoV-2 virus – and both have showed encouraging results during preclinical testing,” Professor Godfrey said.

The two candidates provide 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.

Professor Purcell said the Parkville precinct is well placed to progress these candidates.

“Excellent virus containment labs at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Doherty Institute are coordinating to test the best local booster vaccines, like mRNA and RBD protein in optimal safe formulations, so we can rapidly immunise against threats from new coronavirus variants,” Professor Purcell said.