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We’re helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine

Scientists at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University are contributing essential virology expertise to help develop a safe and effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19. 

Virologists at the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections have identified parts of the novel coronavirus that they hope will generate an immune response that will prevent future infection. This information is being used by Scancell Holdings plc, a developer of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, to design DNA-based vaccines to allow easy and effective delivery of the virus vaccine into humans to produce virus killing antibodies and T cells. 

Work 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, prior to the new approaches being tested in healthy volunteers. 

The project builds on Scancell’s success with its lead ImmunoBody® cancer vaccine to treat patients suffering from malignant melanoma. The DNA vaccine platform is safe, cost-effective and suitable for rapid and largescale manufacture. Although other vaccines may reach the clinic earlier, the team believe that the combined T cell and antibody approach will give more potent and long-lasting responses, ultimately leading to better protection. 

The novel DNA vaccine will target two virus proteins. The so-called nucleocapsid (N) protein, which makes up the bulk of the virus particle, and also the surface spike (S) protein, which enables the virus to gain entry into a cell. It is hoped that the N protein component of the vaccine will stimulate cells to recognise and kill virus-infected cells. The N protein is highly conserved among coronaviruses; therefore this new vaccine has the potential to generate protection not only against COVID-19 but also against new strains of coronavirus that may arise in the future.

Professor Lindy Durrant, Chief Scientific Officer Scancell and Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Nottingham commented: “Vaccines are the long-term solution and we believe our combined high avidity T cell and neutralising antibody approach has the potential to produce a second-generation vaccine that will generate an effective and durable immune response to COVID-19.”

Professor Jonathan Ball, Director of the Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections at the University of Nottingham added: “Focusing the antibody responses on the receptor binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus should ensure the generation of high-titre antibodies that prevent infection. 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.” 

How else is your University supporting the fight against COVID-19?

  • Engineers at the University of Nottingham have designed a PPE face shield with CE approval that are being 3D printed at scale for healthcare workers to use in the fight against COVID-19. Using the latest in Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) technology and materials at the University’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing and working with external collaborators, the team will deliver 5,000 of the face shields to Nottingham’s NHS and community healthcare workers. The team have made the design and its accompanying documents ‘open-source’ to enable other manufacturers to produce the face shields.  

    Find out more >
  • New research, led by experts from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals, will examine why some people who contract COVID-19 have symptoms and others don’t. The study will look to answer a number of important questions around how COVID-19 affects different people, and will consider why, out of those who become symptomatic, not all become seriously ill. This information could be used to help prevent infection among key workers in the NHS. The team will be collecting blood from healthcare workers during the pandemic. They will extract serum from samples taken at regular intervals to test for antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 and measure other substances in the blood. The team will also undertake a genotype to establish if there are any genetic characteristics that contribute to susceptibility for the disease. 

    Find out more >

Discover more about our COVID-19 research > 

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