An investigational vaccine called mRNA-1273 spared mice from the COVID-19 illness, according to new research published in the journal Nature.
The NIH-Moderna partnership is developing the vaccine.
NIH-Moderna joint COVID-19 vaccine showing promise
Scientists from several institutions collaborated to identify the atomic structure of the spike protein that litters the surface of the novel coronavirus. The structure proved useful in developing a suitable vaccine candidate.
The scientists involved in the project represent the National Institutes of Health, the biotechnology firm Moderna, and additional collaborators from Vanderbilt University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Texas at Austin — all of whom conducted the preclinical research.
Investigational vaccine protects mice from COVID-19
The investigational vaccine induced the release of neutralizing antibodies in mice after two intramuscular injections of a 1-microgram (mcg) dose once per three weeks. Further experiments showed that mice who received two injections of the 1-mcg dose, and then introduced to the coronavirus either 5 or 13 weeks after the second injection were saved from viral replication in their nose and lungs.
Notably, mice given the virus 7 weeks after only 1 dose of 1 to 10 mcg of mRNA-1273 were also protected against the COVID-19 virus' replication in the lungs.
The vaccine also induced a strong response of CD8 T-cells in mice, but didn't induce the kind of cellular immune response previously linked with enhanced respiratory disease (VAERD) associated with other vaccines.
The same rare, allergic-like inflammation of the lungs was noticed in individuals who received vaccinations with a wholly-inactivated respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, back in the 1960s.
mRNA-1273 shows 'no signs' of enhancing COVID-19
VAERD can happen when a vaccine induces an insufficient immune response to prevent infection. The investigators vaccinated mice with insufficient doses of mRNA-1273 and then introduced their systems to the coronavirus. No signs of enhanced lung pathology or excess mucous production were noticed, which (the authors say) means the vaccine didn't enhance the disease.
These studies' data when combined with data from similar ones of nonhuman primates and Phase 1 clinical testing collectively support the evaluation of mRNA-1273 in clinical trials for vaccine efficacy. Additionally, they also opened the door for a rapid response alternative for the COVID-19 outbreak.
"This is a demonstration of how the power of new technology-driven concepts like synthetic vaccinology facilitates a vaccine development program that can be initiated with pathogen sequences alone," wrote the authors.
As major pharmaceutical companies work to develop a viable vaccine to the COVID-19 coronavirus in partnerships with government agencies, we can only hope that the timeline is short to a way out of the state of calamity induced by the global spread of the virus seen in 2020.
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