Research to develop a reliable and safe Covid-19 vaccine is underway in many countries around the world, and the University of British Columbia joined global efforts to develop and test a vaccine. The team uses a new technology based on adjuvants as to develop a safe method to immunize against the new coronavirus.
Adjuvants will be used to trigger immune response and help develop immunity. The main goal is to create a vaccine that helps develop optimal immune response as to lower the dosage required. This will cut costs and reduce production time to manufacture a larger number of doses. The vaccine under development will not only protect against Covid-19 but also against other strains. According to Michael Smith Laboratories Professor Wilfred Jefferies, research underway will also help develop better vaccines to control future pandemic outbreaks. Jefferies previously worked on vaccines against cancer, Flu H1N1, SARS, and the West Nile virus, and his work may help develop a vaccine more quickly.
Currently the vaccine is at the stage of animal testing, and clinical trials are expected to start in 4 to 5 months. Preclinical trials are an important stage as they enable quick screening of different formats. They also help lower toxicity for persons with different health conditions, including immune disorders. Vaccine development can be accelerated if more funding is available, making it possible to do parallel testing of different designs and formats. Unlike some other research teams that use cells from aborted fetuses, Professor Jefferies’ work does not involve aborted fetal cells.
The federal government extended financial assistance of over $2.8 million in the form of grants to fight the new coronavirus. Grants are offered through Genome Canada, the International Development Research Centre, New Frontiers in Research Fund, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and other bodies. Professor Jefferies’ work on a new vaccine received funding from The Sullivan Urology Foundation and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research alone has extended a $100,000 grant but the project also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from other donors.
Vancouver-based AbCellera Biologics Inc. is currently working on a drug based on antibodies that will help patients fight the coronavirus. According to CEO Carl Hanson, this drug will offer faster protection than a vaccine which triggers the immune system to produce antibodies. A prophylactic antibody also has the potential to offer better protection than a vaccine. So, instead of working on developing a vaccine, AbCellera Biologics is examining the immune response of infected persons as to identify an antibody that can fight the virus most efficiently. The biotech company uses a high-tech platform and technologies from immunology, microfluidics, genomics, and artificial intelligence as to detect antibodies. Examining blood samples, the company identified 24 antibodies out of 500, which might have a therapeutic potential. The first human trials are expected to begin in July.