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University of Hawaii medical school coronavirus vaccine sparks rapid immunity in mice

  • Video by George F. Lee

    A SARS-CoV-2 vaccine being developed by University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa researchers has shown promise in pre-clinical trials, the university announced Tuesday.

  • GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Graduate research assistant Brien Haun took samples to be prepared for assay by lab equipment in the lab at the JABSOM Biosciences Building.

    GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Graduate research assistant Brien Haun took samples to be prepared for assay by lab equipment in the lab at the JABSOM Biosciences Building.

  • GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Research associate Terri Wong counted plaques in cultures in the lab at the JABSOM Biosciences Building on Thursday.

    GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Research associate Terri Wong counted plaques in cultures in the lab at the JABSOM Biosciences Building on Thursday.

A SARS-CoV-2 vaccine being developed by University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa researchers has shown promise in pre-clinical trials, the university announced Tuesday.

“Most importantly, we’ve already shown that our vaccine candidate can neutralize Sars-Coronavirus 2,” said Axel Lehrer, an assistant professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine who is heading a team of scientists in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology in a research collaboration with Soligenix, Inc., a New Jersey-based company.

The intended vaccine brought on rapid immunity, producing antibody responses in lab mice as early as 7 days after the first vaccination, and “therefore it could be used very rapidly in controlling the current pandemic,” Lehrer said.

Of a type known as a recombinant protein subunit vaccine, it contains antigens, which are virus proteins produced in cell cultures so that no live virus needs to be grown, Lehrer told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“All vaccines have some antigens in them,” he said. “It helps generate the immune response.”

>> PHOTOS: UH researchers work on vaccine

Lehrer said the JABSOM team got a jump start by successfully applying an antigen technology platform that Lehrer and Soligenix originally used to develop an Ebola vaccine, a work still in progress after 18 years, as well as a Zika vaccine that demonstrated protection in monkeys within about 11 months.

“That’s the time frame we’re looking at for our COVID vaccine,” he added, noting that successful antigen vaccines in humans have included the hepatitis B and human papillomavirus vaccines.

“These types of vaccines are very, very safe so almost any person can take them,” he said.

Lehrer said he didn’t know when the JABSOM vaccine would be tested on humans; neither the Ebola or Zika vaccines had as yet advanced to clinical trials.

But it was a strong vaccine candidate because “if you have this virus neutralizing ability and can induce an immune response in mice, it’s very likely you can do so in monkeys and humans.”

The company Moderna recently reported that “their vaccine was protecting monkeys and they also demonstrated strong virus neutralizing responses,” Lehrer said, adding there are about 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development worldwide.

The major obstacle to human clinical trials was the expense, he said, but fundraising is underway, and because his team already has a platform enabling the rapid and efficient manufacturing of the required antigens, access to their vaccine needn’t be“limited to rich countries or places where you have proper infrastructure,” as it can be quickly and easily distributed worldwide.

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