Let me start by sharing, we are worried about the recent outbreak of COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2 and 2019-nCoV. We feel deeply for all the people who are sick or have loved ones currently infected. We also see the impact on society.
After the initial outbreak, like most of us, we continued with business as usual. We also hoped for and expected the rapid development of vaccines. (Read here about current efforts)
At the present moment, however, we feel we can and must contribute. After reviewing the FDA approved vaccine for Ebola Zaire, we were surprised to see that it is based on a virus we are very familiar with: Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV). This led us to think that we could actually design and make a very effective vaccine for COVID-19.
In response to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, Merck developed a vaccine based on Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV). This vaccine is known as rVSV-ZEBOV and marketed under the trade name Ervebo. The vaccine was approved for medical use in the United States in December of 2019.
How did they do it? Below a diagram of the wild-type (WT) genetic make-up of VSV.
Fig. 1. Wild-type VSV
The VSV-G part (the glycoprotein) was removed, and then replaced with the glycoprotein of Zaire Ebola virus (EBOV-GP).
Fig. 2. Ebola Zaire vaccine
Why does this work? The glycoprotein is the outer part of the virus and is the part that is recognized by the immune system. VSV itself does not cause harmful symptoms, but it does replicate in humans. The result of this modification is a virus that can train the immune system and does not cause serious sickness. A vaccine.
Regarding clinical application, Phase II and III trials were initiated in 2015 amid the outbreak in Guinea, and rVSV-ZEBOV vaccines were administered to people who were closely related to or in contact with infected persons. As far as clinical benefits go, Phase III efficacy trials in 2015 demonstrated 100% protection against Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Since then, rVSV-ZEBOV has been used to slow or stop the transmission of Ebola virus during the 2018 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More information on Wikipedia.
Given the positive clinical results and safety profile of rVSV-ZEBOV, we want to build on this foundation and develop a rVSV-COVID19 vaccine. Humane Genomics has the ability to design and build the COVID19 vaccine in days to weeks.
Starting again with the Wild Type VSV:
Fig. 3. Wild-type VSV
In the next step we suggest, just like the other vaccine, to replace VSV-G with COVID19-S, which is the spike glycoprotein of COVID19.
Fig. 4. VSV-COVID19-S
As a further improvement, we also suggest to add the glycoprotein of Measles virus (MeV-H). The immune system of any person vaccinated for or immune to Measles will immediately recognize this vaccine and mount a response to it. The MMR vaccination is one of the most effective vaccines in our arsenal, we believe this combination will improve the efficacy of rVSV-COVID19 and shorten the time it takes to confer protection.
Fig. 5. VSV-MeV-H-COVID19-S. Enhanced effectiveness using the existing immune response against measles.
As a last step, we propose to add a genetic kill switch to the vaccine for increased safety. This is an artificial element that will enable us to kill, or switch off, this viral vector with antibiotics.
Fig. 6. Final version
We are looking for partners who are interested in working with us and who can take this vaccine and bring it to clinical trials. We have the designs, we can make the actual DNA for the vaccine based on these designs in a matter of weeks, however we do not have the clinical trials experience.
Please contact us via covid19 [at] hgi.bio
We are aware that others are working on a vaccine for COVID-19 and we hope they will succeed in making one in the near future. We also feel that in sharing this post we may contribute to a faster discovery of a great vaccine helping many people.
In the end, helping people is what drives us at Humane Genomics.