‘Exceptionally potent yet easily scalable’: Synthetic biology-based COVID vaccine could pull ahead of current frontrunners

A VLP, or virus-like particle.
A VLP, or virus-like particle.

Years ago, researchers learned that, when made with biotechnology, some viral proteins could spontaneously assemble themselves into “virus-like particles,” or VLPs. Although benign, these particles looked like a virus and the bodies recognized them as such, producing fantastic immune responses. Gardasil, Merck’s HPV vaccine, was made this way, potentially saving millions of lives over the next century.

[Neil] King figured out how to design similar particles with software, crafting sporty shapes that made them easier to manufacture and, by a geometric sleight-of-hand, potentially far more potent. Last year, he built a candidate for RSV and raised $51 million to launch a company called Icosavax.  This year, he turned his attention to the new coronavirus.

“We’ve made what looks like a really safe and really effective vaccine,” King told Endpoints News.

Related article:  Chinese biopharma firms ‘well ahead’ in race to use CRISPR in humans

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation agreed, announcing on [October 30] that they would pour $10 million into the effort, the most they’ve publicly committed for any early-stage Covid-19 vaccine.

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The goal is to use synthetic biology to build an exceptionally potent yet easily scalable vaccine, one that can work even in the most at-risk populations, including older adults who might not respond as well to a classic shot. Cell published their preclinical study [November 13], showing high rates of neutralizing antibodies, including from a single dose.

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