University of Hawaii researcher Axel Lehrer is working with New Jersey-based biopharmaceutical company Soligenix, Inc., to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, the team announced Monday.
Lehrer, an assistant professor at the UH Medical School, and his partners at Soligenix previously helped develop a vaccine to combat the Ebola virus that was heat stable and could be produced in mass quantities.
The researchers are now applying the same “technology platform” they used for Ebola to tackle coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, according to announcements from Soligenix and the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The team plans to start test trials in small animals in the next few weeks. If their efforts pan out, the vaccine could be ready for human trials in six to nine months, according to a news release from the medical school.
“Our work to date has demonstrated not only the feasibility of rapid and efficient manufacturing, but also the potential for a broadly applicable and easily distributed vaccine,” Lehrer said. “We are delighted with our successes on development of filovirus and flavivirus vaccines using our platform and look forward to accelerated studies with the coronaviruses.”
Their approach focuses on using antigens to create resistance to the virus in order to develop a “recombinant subunit vaccine.”
“Our vaccine will allow mass vaccinations where you can very quickly generate the type of herd immunity that will be the only way how this virus can be stopped,” Lehrer said. “It can be used in any person, in immunocompromised people, in the elderly and in small children. The safety margin is very good and that’s why we believe that it could be a major contribution to the field.”
Lehrer is collaborating with his numerous colleagues in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology at the UH Medical School. Hawaii Biotech Inc. is also a partner on the project.
“We believe that creating a vaccine with enhanced stability at elevated temperatures, that can obviate the costs and logistical burdens associated with cold chain storage and distribution, has the potential to provide a distinct advantage over other vaccines currently in development and simplifies worldwide distribution,” Christopher Schaber, president and CEO of Soligenix said in a news release.