MRFF backs COVID-19 vaccine candidate

The Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has invested almost $3 million into new COVID-19 vaccine candidates led out of Melbourne.

The two vaccine candidates were developed by a team of researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) and the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), and are providing encouraging results in preclinical testing. This project is also supported by Seqirus.

University of Melbourne Professor Dale Godfrey, Immunology Theme Leader at the Doherty Institute, said the vaccine approaches were very different to the two Australia-based candidates currently in clinical trials.

“SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is enveloped by proteins that resemble spikes, which enable the virus to attach and enter cells. This attachment is mediated by the tip of the spike protein, known as the receptor binding domain (RBD). Our vaccine candidates focus specifically on the RBD because if we can block this attachment we can block infection,” Professor Godfrey said.

“The spike protein is viewed as the most important target for antibodies produced by the immune system because most antibodies that neutralise the virus do so by targeting the RBD region of the spike.”

The two candidates:

  1. RBD protein – represents the tip of the spike in an isolated molecular form to focus the immune response on this critical region of the virus targeted by antibodies that neutralise viral infectivity
  2. RBD mRNA – represents the virus genetic sequence that codes for the tip of the spike, which will lead to production of the RBD protein.

Monash University Professor of Pharmaceutical Biology, Professor Colin Pouton said: "Our approach includes messenger RNA technology which should provide a very safe and focussed vaccine with the important ability to rapidly adjust its composition in response to emerging virus mutations - if the virus mutates, a new vaccine can be tested within a few weeks."

Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute and a co-investigator on this grant, thanked the Commonwealth Government for their generous support of the vaccine candidates.

“We are very excited about this vaccine approach, which now, thanks to the support of the Commonwealth, will be expediated, hopefully entering Phase 1 human trials quickly,” Professor Lewin said.

Find out more about the vaccine candidates in our special report at Monash Lens.