Scientists start work on vaccine to prevent future coronavirus outbreaks

Scientists from the University of Plymouth have started work on a coronavirus vaccine designed to prevent outbreaks similar to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers at The Vaccine Group (TVG), a University spinout company, have already made significant progress in developing vaccines designed to prevent infections jumping from animals to humans.

They are now looking to adapt its novel vaccine platform technology to prevent future human coronavirus zoonotic emergence.

TVG was created to commercialise the work of Dr Michael Jarvis, Associate Professor (Reader) in Virology and Immunology in the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences.

He is already working closely with a number of international partners, and this latest project will involve colleagues at the Shanghai Veterinary Research Institute and Kansas State University.

Dr Jarvis, TVG’s Chief Scientific Officer, said:

“As COVID-19 has shown, the spillover of disease from animals to humans can have a very high social, economic and commercial cost globally. Naturally, there has been a swift move into funding the development of human vaccines and therapeutics, but to date we are not aware of any approaches to eliminate COVID-19 in the animal population to prevent future outbreaks or re-emergence of the disease. The animal species involved in emergence of COVID-19 remain unclear. We believe that such a vaccine tool may be vital for control of COVID-19 as well as other emerging coronaviruses. We have therefore started work on a vaccine and will be partnering with the Shanghai Veterinary Research Institute and Kansas State University, with whom we already have close links.”

Since being formed less than a year ago, TVG has secured more than £9million in funding and made significant progress towards developing a range of vaccines.

Trials in rabbits of a prototype bovine mastitis vaccine have demonstrated the technology’s ability to deliver strong, targeted immune responses. Vaccines to combat bovine tuberculosis and African Swine Fever Virus are about to enter initial animal trials, and US government-backed work to develop vaccines to tackle Ebola and Lassa fever is making good progress.

Dr Jarvis’ work is based on benign forms of herpesviruses, a group of viruses found in all animals, including humans. The vaccines are created by inserting a non-infectious region of DNA from the pathogen being targeted into the herpesvirus, which then stimulates an immune response against the disease when delivered into animals.

He added:

“By developing vaccines for animals, rather than solely for humans, you are potentially tackling any future outbreaks at source. Development of this particular vaccine has just been started and it is expected to be in animal studies before the end of the year. Although this will be too late for the current outbreak, the diversity of animal reservoirs and genetic variability of COVID-19 and related coronaviruses mean it could give rise to future pandemics. An animal vaccine could help prevent this from happening, although we still don’t know the animal species involved in the spillover of the current COVID-19 into humans.”

TVG is supported by the University’s commercialisation partner, Frontier IP, and earlier this year the company completed a £680,000 equity fund raise that valued TVG at £9.5million. The funds are being used directly to accelerate technology development.

Frontier IP Chief Executive Officer Neil Crabb said:

“The announcement shows TVG has been making great progress to date in meeting the compelling need for vaccines to tackle diseases with profound human and economic costs. The range of vaccines now under development and the success of trials so far proves the technology could be potent in tackling a wide variety of diseases that jump from animals to humans or are damaging economically. We’re working closely with the Company to accelerate its vital work.”

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