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

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.

Covid-19 vaccine
NTU's John van Geest Cancer Research Centre is involved in the work

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 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, 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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    The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. 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. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

    NTU was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students. NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience. The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook. The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019. A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2019 National Student Survey.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2019 National Student Survey.

    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: www.scancell.co.uk

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

Published on 24 April 2020
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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