Thus far, the Rega Institute at the Belgian university KU Leuven has produced promising results in preclinical (animal) research evaluating a modified yellow fever vaccine targeting COVID-19. They report that once the modified investigational product—derived from the 80 year old vaccine—is applied to SARS-CoV-19, the pathogen is barely detectable in hamsters after. Takeaway: this hybrid vaccine developed from the yellow fever vaccine absolutely destroys the novel coronavirus in animals. People are next; clinical trials will commence at the end of the year. The team in Belgium now seeks a strategic manufacturing partner. Could this be the breakthrough the world needs out of Belgium?
The Vaccine Candidate
These researchers from Belgium have edited and incorporated a piece of SARS-CoV-2 virus genetic code into a modified yellow fever vaccine to essentially develop a new investigational vaccine for COVID-19. KU Leuven team members at Rega Institute have employed this same platform to make candidate vaccines targeting Ebola, zika and rabies.
The underlying yellow fever vaccine has been around for about 80 years and nearly 800 million have been vaccinated, reports Professor Neyts. He reports that “Of the more than 160 vaccines under development to combat COVID-19, we are the only ones who are using yellow fever as a basis.”
The Preclinical Research
Led by Professor Johan Neyts and Dr. Kai Dallmeier, the team out of KU Leuven started experimenting with at least eight variants of the vaccine targeting the novel coronavirus, reports Arnoud Cornelissen with Innovation Origins out of Europe. After evaluating various permutations of hamster and vaccine version, the team settled on one that seemed optimized for hamsters. Once applied to COVID-19 infected hamsters, the yellow fever vaccine essentially beats back SARS-CoV-2 so that it is “barely detectable in the hamsters’ lungs,” reports a neat online media in Europe called Innovation Origins.
Mr. Cornelissen from Innovation Origins interviewed Professor Neyts who described the results of applying this version of the yellow fever vaccine on SARS-CoV-2-infected hamsters: “We saw up to half a million times less of the virus infection in the hamsters that received the candidate vaccine than in the hamsters from the control groups. The animals were also spared any lung infections. By contrast, the lungs of the test animals in the control groups were clearly damaged.” Highlighting the potency of this vaccine approach, the professor further elaborated that just one dose of the vaccine product was sufficient to protect the hamster from infection. They apparently ran this experiment successfully in “several animals” even within a period of ten days post initial infection. Moreover, the team discovered that this vaccine candidate triggers the body to generate antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 protrusions, hence stopping its dangerous ability to attach itself to the animal’s healthy cells.
The researchers posted the results of the preclinical research study titled “A potent single-dose live-attenuated YF17D-vectored vaccine against SARS-CoV-2” on the preprint server bioRxiv.
The Innovation Origins report claims that the researchers seek out to conduct clinical trials by years end. They will need to move swiftly as although processes have been streamlined, they still must file some form of investigatory new drug application. Kai Dallmeier runs the vaccine team at KU Leuven and reports, “If everything else continues to run smoothly, we expect to start the first clinical trials on humans by winter.” Like all the other vaccine developers, they are on the fast track given accumulating damages caused by COVID-19.
Belgium Slashes Clinical Trials Wait Times
The good news, as TrialSite reported, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes office wasn’t wasting any time getting down to the business of research with the rise of COVID-19. Her office reported that they would “slash” clinical trial wait times. Undoubtedly, this type of policy can go to the favor of streamlining the KU Leuven breakthrough.
The KU Leuven teams is in search of partners, including those entities that have manufacturing capabilities. As the investigational vaccine developed at the Rega Institute cannot be given directly to clinical trial participants, an accredited vaccine producer needs to get involved to produce the experimental product for clinical trials administration. Mr. Cornelissen reports that the team is in talks with prospective manufacturing partners.
Call to Action: For biotech/vaccine producers interested in this particular approach, it makes sense to contact these researchers to learn more. We share Professor Neyts contact information here.