Scientists from the University of Cambridge won funding from the U.K. government to start trials for a DNA-based vaccine that aims to protect against multiple coronaviruses.
The government has invested 1.9 million pounds ($2.5 million) to develop the shot, with the researchers planning to begin phase I trials in the autumn, the university said in a statement Wednesday. The team aims to use genetic sequences of other known coronaviruses to create one vaccine that goes beyond Covid-19 to fight related diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
More than 30 Covid vaccines are in clinical trials, with at least 140 more at the preclinical stage, according to the World Health Organization. Frontrunners include the University of Oxford, working with AstraZeneca Plc, and Moderna Inc.
The pandemic has spurred the development of a wave of new approaches to vaccine-making, with a race to see which modality will be the first and most successful. A handful of DNA-based vaccines are being tested, including one from Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. The company said an early trial showed positive immune responses, but investors complained about a lack of detail.
The Cambridge team’s shot uses computer-generated antigen structures that train the immune system to target key parts of the virus and produce the appropriate antiviral response. One benefit of this approach, according to Jonathan Heeney, a Cambridge professor who is leading the study, is that it should avoid any adverse hyper-inflammatory immune reactions.
“We’re looking for chinks in its armor, crucial pieces of the virus that we can use to construct the vaccine to direct the immune response in the right direction,” he said. “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.”
— With assistance by David Hellier