Universities in Nottingham to play a key role in the development of a potential DNA vaccine against COVID-19

Friday, 24 April 2020

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

Experts from both universities will assist Scancell Holdings plc, a developer of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, to adapt its existing cancer vaccine platform for the development of a new vaccine.

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 by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

This information is being used by Scancell 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.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. 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.

The surface protein is the natural target for virus-killing antibodies, which prevent the virus from entering the 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 amongst coronaviruses; therefore, this new vaccine has the potential to generate protection not only against SARS-CoV-2, but also against new strains of coronavirus that may arise in the future.

The project will be led by Professor Lindy Durrant, Chief Scientific Officer Scancell, and Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Professor Jonathan Ball and other colleagues in the Centre for Global Virus Infections and the new Biodiscovery Institute at the University of Nottingham, and the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University.

Professor Durrant, said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, Scancell has been evaluating how it can best contribute its expertise and resources to help in the global response. 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

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.”

Professor Nigel Wright, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Nottingham Trent University and the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre are delighted to support Scancell’s endeavours to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19. These are clearly challenging times and significant progress in the development of new approaches for protecting against this virus will only be possible by collaborations such as these.”

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About the COVID-19 Vaccine Collaboration Members


  • Prof. Lindy Durrant has over 30 years’ experience in cancer immunotherapy and clinical trials, including the Phase 1/2 SCIB1 DNA vaccine trial in melanoma and, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, the SCIB2 DNA vaccine trial in NCSLC patients. Her team will monitor the T cell responses.
  • Dr. Sally Adams leads Scancell’s clinical development team and has overseen the manufacture of GMP DNA vaccines/peptides and regulatory approval for their use in several First-In-Human clinical trials. She will lead the clinical development of this project.

University of Nottingham:

  • Dr. Janet Daly has 30 years’ experience in development and testing of human and veterinary antivirals and vaccines, including human influenza DNA vaccines, and is an advisor on this project.
  • Dr. James Dixon is a researcher who is an expert in gene augmentation and will apply this expertise to the COVID-19 DNA vaccine.
  • Dr. Christopher Coleman, who is also an advisor on this project, has a wealth of experience working with human coronaviruses, including work with category 3, highly pathogenic human coronaviruses.
  • Prof. Jonathan Ball’s group have long-standing neutralising antibody and vaccine-related research expertise and have established the platforms necessary for spike protein validation and neutralising antibody analysis, including serological and virus entry inhibition assays.

Nottingham Trent University:

Prof. Graham Pockley is Director of the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre and has over 30 years’ experience in Immunobiology.

About Scancell

Scancell is developing novel immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer based on its ImmunoBody® and Moditope® technology platforms.

ImmunoBody® vaccines target dendritic cells and stimulate both parts of the cellular immune system. They have the potential to be used as monotherapy or in combination with checkpoint inhibitors and other agents. This platform has the potential to enhance tumour destruction, prevent disease recurrence and extend survival.

  • SCIB1, the lead programme, is being developed for the treatment of melanoma. A phase 1/2 clinical trial has so far successfully demonstrated survival data of more than five years.
  • SCIB2 is being developed for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and other solid tumours. Scancell has entered into a clinical development partnership with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) for SCIB2. Moditope® represents a completely new class of potent and selective immunotherapy agents based on stress-induced post-translational modifications (siPTM). It stimulates the production of killer CD4 T cells which overcome the immune suppression induced by tumours, allowing activated T cells to seek out and kill tumour cells that would otherwise be hidden from the immune system. Moditope® alone, or in combination with other agents, has the potential to treat a wide variety of cancers.
  • Modi-1 is being developed for the treatment of solid tumours including triple negative breast cancer, ovarian cancer and head and neck cancer.AvidiMab™ is a patent protected technology platform which increases the avidity of human antibodies by promoting non-covalent Fc-Fc interactions. This modification induces the direct tumour cell killing properties of Scancell’s anti-glycan monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) but has broad potential to increase the avidity or potency of any therapeutic monoclonal antibody including those being developed for autoimmune diseases, as well as cancer.For further details, please see our website:
Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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