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Nottingham universities join race to develop Covid-19 vaccine

Meanwhile, UK biotech firm Stabilitech Biopharma is seeking investment to develop an oral vaccine

Nottingham’s universities have teamed up with Scancell Holdings, a developer of immunotherapies for cancer treatment, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

Virologists at the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections say they have identified parts of the novel coronavirus they hope will generate an immune response to prevent future infection.

This information is now being used by Scancell to design DNA-based vaccines to allow “easy and effective delivery” of the vaccine to produce virus-killing antibodies and T cells.

Scientists at Nottingham Trent University’s John van Geest Cancer Research Centre will screen the new vaccine for its capacity to trigger immune responses against Covid-19 before it is tested on humans.

The project is led by Lindy Durrant, chief scientific officer at Scancell and professor of cancer immunotherapy at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the university, as well as colleagues at both institutions.

“A similar DNA vaccine has already been shown to be safe and effective in cancer patients and so should rapidly translate into the clinic for prevention of Covid-19,” Ball said.

Meanwhile, UK biotech firm Stabilitech Biopharma announced on 30 April that it was seeking £6 million in investment to fund clinical trials and manufacturing of an oral coronavirus vaccine, OraPro-Covid-19.

“Delivering a Covid-19 vaccine in the shortest time possible is only half the challenge,” said the company’s chairman, Wayne Channon. “Delivering a vaccine that works is more important.

“That is why we are targeting our vaccine to hit Covid-19 where it sits—in mucosal cells. Other vaccines are currently only targeting the systemic immune system, but we know from our research that Covid-19 is a mucosal virus, therefore all vaccine developers should also be looking for a vaccine that targets both mucosal and systemic immunity.”

Channon told media he expects their vaccine to enter human trials in early June, and to have millions of doses by the end of the year.

Such capsule-based vaccine could be mailed to people at home, he said, and avoid the need for long queues and exposure to other people to get an injection. It would also be thermally stable, so could easily be shipped around the world—if it’s shown to be safe and effective.