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India-born scientist spearheads Covid vaccine tests in animals

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 06, 2020 Published on April 06, 2020

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An India-born virologist at Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) at Geelong, a port city southwest of Melbourne, is heading preclinical animal tests of Covid-19 vaccines.

SS Vasan, who leads the Dangerous Pathogens team at ACDP, which is a part of Australian national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is heading the team that will carry out animal studies on different vaccines against SARS-CoV2, which causes Covid-19 infection.

Animal models

A team led by Vasan, senior principal research consultant for Health and Biosecurity at CSIRO, had earlier shown that ferrets – the domesticated European polecats – could be used as animal models to test the efficacy of vaccines and therapies against SARS-CoV2. This is because ferrets share lung physiology similar to humans’ and can thus be infected by the deadly virus which has so far caused over 1.28 million cases and killed more than 70,000 people worldwide.

As of now, the team led by Vasan, who also holds an honorary chair in Health Sciences at the University of York in the UK, will test two candidate vaccines being developed with funding from The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a foundation that takes donations from philanthropic, and civil society organisations to support independent vaccine projects.

CEPI has so far extended funding to eight potential Covid-19 vaccines. One CEPI-funded vaccine, developed by a US firm called Moderna, entered human trials in March. Significantly, the vice-chair of CEPI is Gagandeep Kang, Executive Director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute at Faridabad.

2 vaccines on test

Among the two vaccines being tested on ferrets, one is a DNA vaccine, INO-4800, developed by the US-based pharma firm Inovio and Beijing Advaccine, and the other one is from an Oxford University team. While the Oxford vaccine is said to be intramuscular, Vasan’s team will be testing its efficacy as intranasal as well.

“This is because I want to find out if intranasal administration will confer mucosal immunity so the vaccine will be more protective with just a single dose,” Vasan told BusinessLine from Geelong.

Both these vaccines are scheduled to enter Phase-I clinical trials with healthy volunteers. “Looking at the urgency of the situation, vaccine developers are conducting animal studies simultaneously,” Vasan said.

Recently, the Australian government announced an additional $220 million to CSIRO bio-security research facility in Geelong so that the infrastructure can be beefed up to handle deadly viruses such as SARS-CoV2 and test potential vaccines. The preclinical research by Vasan's team is funded by a partnership between CSIRO and CEPI.

Published on April 06, 2020

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