Leading vaccine maker Bharat Biotech on Wednesday announced that it has signed an exclusive deal with Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia to develop a new vaccine candidate for Covid-19 invented at Jefferson.
The novel vaccine was developed using an existing deactivated rabies vaccine as a vehicle for coronavirus proteins. This is in part because this vehicle or carrier vaccine is known to produce a strong immune response, and is approved for the whole population including children and pregnant women, Bharat Biotech said in a statement.
Infectious Diseases expert Professor Matthias Schnell's lab developed the vaccine in January this year, and has recently completed preliminary tests in animal models.
The vaccine showed a strong antibody response in mice receiving the vaccine. The researchers are currently testing whether vaccinated animals are protected from SARS-CoV-2 infection with results expected the next month.
"Our partnership with Bharat Biotech will accelerate our vaccine candidate through the next phases of development," says Prof Schnell - a coronavirus expert who directs The Jefferson Vaccine Institute and chairs Jefferson's Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
"We are particularly excited about this technology since the basic proof of concept has been established while using it for other pandemic infectious diseases. Bharat Biotech is committed to global public health and will be involved in an end to end development of the vaccine including comprehensive clinical trials to achieve commercial licensure," said Dr Krishna Mohan, Chief Executive Officer of Bharat Biotech.
Under the license agreement, Bharat Biotech gains exclusive rights to develop, market and deliver Jefferson's vaccine across the world excluding countries such as USA, Europe, Japan etc, where Jefferson continues to seek partners.
With support from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, Bharat Biotech aims to get into human trials as soon as December 2020.
Of the 90 or so coronavirus vaccines in development, about 25 per cent use an established vaccine to act as a carrier or vector for the target virus, in this case, the coronavirus SARS-COV-2 spike protein.
"Since we know the immune system reacts to the rabies vaccine with a strong response when we add the coronavirus component, we expect to see that level of protection, and immune memory, carry over to the SARS-CoV-2 viral protein as well," says Prof Schnell.