South Australia accelerates COVID-19 vaccine development

A South Australian immunologist has been awarded $3 million from the Federal Government to accelerate the development of a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine, which may become a second line of defence against the virus.

The grant is for a vaccine based on the Sementis Copenhagen Vector (SCV) platform, which will target mutant strains. It can either be received as a stand-alone vaccine or as a booster to complement current vaccines .

John Hayball, researcher at the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Chief Scientific Officer at biotechnology company Sementis, has been awarded the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to fast-track human clinical trials within 18 months.

“The SCV platform is the most advanced viral-vector vaccine platform technology to be developed in Australia,” says Hayball.

“Crucially, our Sementis vaccine is anticipated to be effective against mutant strains of COVID-19.

“It will be a stand-alone addition to the suite of locally available vaccines, as well as a potent booster to all approved vaccines, protecting the health of all Australians. It is also expected to provide a strong boost to those who have already recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

The SCV platform allows for large scale genetic information, which makes it ideal for accommodating the complexities of how mutations affect the immune system, the researchers claim.

“This means that we can incorporate other antigenic proteins from SARS-CoV-2 into the vaccine with the aim to generate broad-ranging immunity and prevent transmission, areas of increasing importance in response to SARS-CoV-2 mutant strains,” explains Hayball.

The Sementis vaccine will also be developed with the goal of large-scale manufacturing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed serious shortcomings in Australia’s capacity to respond to emerging infectious disease threats,” Hayball says. “Until now, we have had no capacity to respond, but that is changing.

“There are many experimental vaccines in development that may or may not be effective in the fight against COVID-19, but unless they can be manufactured at scale, they will never be used to control the pandemic.”

Leanne Hobbs, Sementis Chief Executive Officer, says the vaccine could be ready for production in 2022.

“There is terrific vaccine R&D happening across Australia,” she says. “We are not only focused on contributing an Australian solution to the global fight against COVID-19; we also want to help build Australia’s capability to respond to the next pandemic.”

The MRFF is a $20 billion long-term Federal Government investment to support health and medical research.

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