An Aussie COVID-19 vaccine might not get off the ground
An Australian scientist has produced five vaccine candidates against COVID-19, four of which are being tested in mice, but he can't get funding to take them into human clinical trials.
Professor Bernard Rehm from Griffith University says his vaccines which use a unique rapid response technology are cheap and can be produced quickly.
"In two weeks we could supply enough vaccine for the whole of Australia, it is unprecedented," he said.
The mice, who were divided into four groups and given three doses of a candidate vaccines, showed no adverse effects.
The team will know in three weeks whether they produce antibodies that neutralise the virus that causes COVID-19.
They will then pick the strongest vaccine candidate for further research but experts warn most prospective vaccine candidates fail in this early preclinical phase.
At present, Professor Rehm has just one staffer who is literally working around the clock and covered in mouse bites as he carries out the testing.
"You really need 10 post doctoral students and 10 research assistants to do this work," Professor Rehm said.
The academic has been working on the technology for 10 years and has already produced experimental vaccines against tuberculosis, meningitis, pneumonia and hepatitis C that prevented illness in mice.
He said he is still waiting to find out if he has won $2 million in funding from the government's Medical Research Future Fund.
But he will need more than that amount to progress the research.
"We need in the range of $7 million to take this into human clinical trials," he said.
The idea for the vaccine sprang from an laboratory fridge clean-out where an old dish of cells containing polymers was found.
"The student wanted to throw it in the bin, I wanted to look at it down the microscope and discovered the polymer was visible in beautiful spheres, it was nicely stabilised and intact and it's that stability which is a good property for vaccines," he said.
The vaccine uses a synthetic version of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) which means selected virus components are assembled by safe microbial cell factories.
The process allows rapid vaccine design combined with a high-yield bioprocess for mass production of the vaccine.
Brisbane-based biomanufacturing company Luina Bio has partnered with the university to deliver the manufacture the vaccine candidates.
"Our manufacturing partner conceivably could create up to 16 million vaccine doses per week," Professor Rehm said.
If he had more funding Professor Rehm said he could develop and test 100 other vaccine candidates to find the most effective one.
Once he has a prototype vaccine it could quickly be adapted to any mutation in the virus, he said.
Associate Professor Paul Griffin at from the University of Queensland who is conducting human clinical trials of a US vaccine for COVID-19 for Nucleus Network said it was too early to say if the Griffith University vaccine held promise.
"The majority of vaccines fail in the preclinical phase," he said.
Like many of the front runners in the COVID-19 vaccine race the Griffith University vaccine was using novel technology that had not been used in any licensed vaccines before.
"I think we need to be cautious," he said.
Originally published as Why this Aussie COVID-19 vaccine might not get off the ground