A DNA-based vaccine is very effective at protecting against COVID-19, according to a joint preclinical study by Scancell Ltd and Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) recently published in the Journal of Biotechnology and Biomedicine

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Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines that use messenger RNA (mRNA) to cue the immune system to produce antibodies, this vaccine platform uses sections of viral DNA to achieve a similar result. 

“There is always a need to develop new, or improve on existing vaccines to ensure we have effective tools to counter emerging variants,” says Texas Biomed Innovation Lab Principal Investigator Viraj Kulkarni, PhD. “DNA vaccines are one of the promising alternatives because they are adaptable, simple to generate and effective.”

Cross-Atlantic partnership

Scancell Ltd, based in the U.K., partnered with Texas Biomed’s Innovation Lab to test its novel COVID-19 vaccine in mice.

“Texas Biomed has the biocontainment facilities and expertise to test our products,” says Samantha Paston, Head of Translational sciences at Scancell. “We appreciated partnering with the Innovation Lab to complete these early preclinical tests.”

Vaccines help the body to be prepared when it encounters the real pathogen. While vaccines may not completely stop a person from getting sick, they are especially good at preventing severe disease and death. 

Scancell’s vaccine contains a DNA plasmid that encodes two of the COVID-19 antigens. In the mouse study, the researchers found that the vaccine prompted a robust immune response, including T cell activation and antibody production, similar to levels seen with existing mRNA vaccines.

Stable at room temperature

While mRNA vaccines start with messenger RNA, DNA vaccines start with sections of DNA that the body converts into mRNA, which then directs production of viral proteins to elicit an immune response. DNA vaccines are safe, easy, affordable to produce, and, unlike RNA vaccines, are stable at room temperature. 

The Innovation Lab was launched in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more companies approached Texas Biomed to help test their vaccines, therapies and other products, from masks and decontamination robots to antimicrobial surface coatings, small molecule therapies and new vaccines. 

“Partnering with industry and governments around the world has long been an important focus for Texas Biomed,” says Cory Hallam, PhD, Vice President for Business Development and Strategic Alliances.

“With such a large increase in partnerships in the past three years, the Innovation Lab was established as the one-stop-shop to conduct critical preclinical studies and help accelerate the science necessary for moving promising solutions to the market.”