Under the leadership of Professor Johan Neyts and Dr. Kai Dallmeier of the Rega Institute, the development of eight vaccine prototypes for use against the coronavirus was started in January. One of these appears to work particularly well in hamsters and monkeys.
Animals given the candidate vaccine did not become ill, nor were they contagious. “In the hamsters that received the vaccine candidate, we saw up to a half-million times fewer virus particles than in the hamsters from the control groups. The animals were also free of a lung infections. However, the lungs of the animals in the control groups were clearly affected.”
The vaccine takes the existing yellow fever vaccine and pastes onto it a piece of genetic code from the target virus. The team has previously used this technique to create candidate vaccines against Ebola, Zika and rabies. “Of the more than 120 vaccines under development against COVID-19, we are the only ones using yellow fever as a basis.”
The researchers published results from tests on hamsters as well as results from tests on monkeys in the scientific journal Nature. “We saw neutralising antibodies in some monkeys seven days after the vaccination. After fourteen days, high numbers of neutralising antibodies were observed in all animals. That is very fast. In addition, the virus had disappeared completely, or almost completely, from the throats of the vaccinated animals.”
The research team expects to start clinical trials on humans in the second quarter of 2021. The definitive vaccine probably won't be available until 2022, but it has some important advantages. For example, the vaccine offers protection after just one dose, in contrast to many of the current frontrunners, which require a second dose after a month. In addition, the researchers expect that the vaccine will provide long-term protection against COVID-19. “So it could be an ideal candidate for booster vaccinations when immunity decreases in people who have received one of the first-generation vaccines.”