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COVID-19 vaccine candidate designed via computer

COVID-19 vaccine candidate designed via computer

Over the last decade structure based protein platforms have been viewed as a potential catalyst for vaccine development. To this end, computer aided vaccine engineering has been applied for the design of recently licensed vaccines for meningitis and shingles prophylaxis and for a Phase 1 vaccine candidate for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Recently the team of Walls et al. published results in the journal Cell demonstrating promising immune responses in animals injected with a vaccine candidate generated by computer modeling of the COVID-19 and associated proteins. The vaccine candidate is made of a self-assembling protein nanoparticle displaying the 60 copies of the receptor-binding domain in a structure that resembles the natural virus. The nanoparticle vaccine designed by scientists at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle, was funded by over a dozen funding sources, and has been transferred to two companies for clinical development.


From a regulatory perspective the computer aided design has the advantage of rationally predicting immune responses and potential immune related potency and safety aspects for the vaccine and facilitates the description of the vaccine structure and components in the clinical trial application (IND/IMPD/CTA). The acceleration of the vaccine development itself (from preclinical through to Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 and licensure) is influenced by the complexity of the processes used to manufacture the selected drug substance and formulate the drug product.


The advantage of structure based vaccines candidates, such as that described by Walls et al, is the potential for superior, by design, selection and development of highly active vaccine products. More active products may require fewer injections, lower dosages, and longer lasting immune responses, clearly a benefit for improved access and prevention of disease in our global community. For the U. Washington COVID-19 candidate, the molecular structure of the nanoparticle vaccine roughly mimics that of the virus, which may account for its enhanced ability to provoke an immune response.


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Crank et al. (2019) THE VRC 317 STUDY TEAM SCIENCE02 AUG 2019 : 505-509