The medical breakthrough announced by Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) researchers this week could prove a major step forward in the development of a viable Covid-19 vaccine, according to the scientists behind the research.
The researchers found that administering a vaccine candidate on small mammals had offered potent protection from the virus, with none of the sampled animals developing any evidence of pneumonia.
The next step – to be initiated shortly, according to the researchers – will be to evaluate and validate the vaccine in human clinical trials.
The research team consists of researchers from MUST and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), in collaboration with other Chinese institutions, who jointly published a research paper in the prestigious science journal, Nature.
With this latest achievement, MUST and its research partners join a global effort to develop a vaccine to combat Covid-19.
According to data from the World Health Organization, there are more than 150 candidate Covid-19 vaccines under development around the world. The most prestigious medical and academic institutions are currently testing those vaccines and some have already started with human trials.
The MUST researchers say there is a credible threat of further outbreaks of the virus, “which may only stop once a vaccine is available to everyone.”
Professor Manson Fok, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at MUST, confirmed yesterday that human clinical trials, the next step toward realizing the vaccine, would begin soon.
“Our research team has faced many challenges when designing our vaccine for best effect, while keeping side effects to a minimum and relieving other production concerns,” said Fok in prepared statements. “To move forward, the efficacy of the vaccine needs to be evaluated and validated in human clinical trials, which will be initiated shortly.”
“This breakthrough in Covid-19 vaccine could not have been achieved without the concerted efforts of our researchers and we hope mass vaccination can be conducted in the nearest future,” added Fok.
Dr Johnson Lau, adjunct professor of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology of PolyU, and Alexander Wai, deputy president and provost of PolyU, were among the other senior researchers involved in the collaboration.
Lau said that the vaccine was “expected to provide a practical solution to fight against Covid-19” because of its credible safety profile and “commercially feasible system,” which could “be used to manufacture the candidate vaccine, if successful, on a commercial scale.”
Alexander Wai described the vaccine as possible “the best vaccine choice to combat this pandemic.”
He said that it was the mission of the research team to “utilize scientific technologies for prevention and control of the virus, so as to help people to live under the ‘new normal’ of coronavirus.”
The research approach and methodology were explained in detail during an online press conference yesterday.
The researchers found that a recombinant vaccine comprising of a receptor-binding domain (RBD) induced a potent and functional antibody response in the immunized mice, rabbits and non-human primates (Macaca mulatta) as early as seven or 14 days after a single dose injection.
According to the researchers, the sera from the immunized animals neutralized infection by SARS-CoV-2.
Moreover, there is no evidence of antibody-dependent enhancement or acceleration of pneumonia in the mice or monkeys that received the vaccine, and none developed any evidence of pneumonia.
“The objective of this study was to evaluate the potential of a candidate vaccine based on the RBD domain of SARS-CoV-2,” said Professor Kang Zhang from the Faculty of Medicine of MUST, the corresponding author of the paper.
“At the same time, we wanted to evaluate the appropriate dosing regime, to test its effect in generating neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2 in the recipient animals and to determine the immune pathways involved in the generation of the immune response, so as to provide the groundwork for the design of an effective SARS-CoV-2 preventive vaccine,” explained Zhang.
“Our finding highlights the importance of the RBD domain in the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine design, which provides the rationale for the development of a protective vaccine through the induction of antibody against the RBD domain.” Daniel Beitler & Julie Zhu