A second generation of University of Queensland vaccine technology, abandoned during the rush to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine, will enter human trials early next year.
- The first vaccine had to be abandoned due to false HIV positives
- The University of Queensland received $8.5 million in grants from CEDI
- Researchers believe the technology could be used without vaccines against other viruses
UQ scientists were devastated in late 2020 when they had to pull out of the initial race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine after recipients in an early human study using their molecular clamp technology falsely tested positive for HIV.
But they are hopeful that a new generation of the molecular clamp – dubbed Clamp2 – will be used to make future vaccines and save lives, without concerns about false-positive HIV tests.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has committed up to $8.5 million to support the advancement of Clamp2 for use in the global response to future disease outbreaks.
UQ molecular virologist Keith Chappell said a human proof-of-concept trial of a Clamp2 vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is due to begin in Brisbane next March .
“We have never lost our belief that this is a technology needed to make vaccines and save lives,” Associate Professor Chappell said.
“It was a roller coaster ride. We’re going high again and we’re really excited for what’s to come.”
Professor Chappell said 35 volunteers would receive a Clamp2 COVID vaccine and 35 would receive Novavax to compare the UQ technology to an already approved COVID-19 vaccine.
“We believe, and we have shown in animal studies, that Clamp2 is as safe and effective as the first vaccine we tested in clinical trials,” he said.
“All we did was compare the original to the new platform. She performed equal or better for every virus we tested and there is no evidence of diagnostic interference from HIV testing.”
Target other viruses
The original clip technology used in UQ’s first experimental COVID vaccine contained two fragments of a protein found in HIV that acted like a chemical bulldog clip, holding together an engineered version of the spike protein found on the surface of the SARS virus. CoV-2 virus was found.
This allowed the immune system to recognize – and attack – the spike protein and produce protective antibodies.
The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein alone is unstable. It needs to be shaped to ensure the vaccine elicits a robust immune response.
Professor Chappell said he could not reveal details of Clamp2 due to intellectual property concerns.
But he said, “We can guarantee that there is no induction of cross-reactions to HIV diagnostics.”
Although Clamp2 will initially be tested in human trials of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, Professor Chappell said the scientists have no plans to add to the COVID-19 vaccines already on the market at this point.
“We did not select SARS-CoV-2 because we believe a new vaccine is needed,” he said.
“The vaccines available are incredibly effective, especially if you have had multiple booster shots the level of protection is great.
“But when we compare our technology to the best available and approved vaccines, we can say with some confidence that our vaccine works.”
Professor Chappell said the UQ team will consider using Clamp2 to develop vaccines against other viruses instead.
“This technology could be used to make better vaccines for viruses that we already know or for viruses that currently don’t have a vaccine available, and we’re actively pursuing those two areas,” he said.
“There are viruses like HTLV-1, a big problem in our indigenous community in Australia that we are actively tracking and looking at if our vaccine could be effective for these types of diseases that are not on the radar of big pharmaceutical companies.”
Melanie Saville, CEPI’s Executive Director of Vaccine Research and Development, said the UQ team has demonstrated true determination and the power of scientific procedure to achieve tangible advances in vaccinology.
“The second-generation molecular clamp vaccine technology developed by UQ could provide the world with an additional tool to respond quickly to future pandemic threats,” she said.
As part of the university’s partnership agreement with CEPI, UQ has agreed that vaccines made with Clamp2 will be available to vulnerable populations in an outbreak situation.
The batch of Clamp2 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine needed for next year’s human trial was manufactured in Brisbane at a National Biologics Facility housed at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.