SA accelerates local COVID vaccine development for mutant strains

A leading South Australian immunologist has been awarded $3 million from the Federal Government to accelerate work on a locally developed Covid-19 vaccine, in what’s anticipated to be the second line of defence against the virus.

Professor John Hayball is a researcher at the University of South Australia and Chief Scientific Officer at Adelaide biotechnology company Sementis.

UniSA and Sementis have partnered in the development of a next-generation Covid-19 vaccine based on the Sementis Copenhagen Vector (SCV) platform. The vaccine has been in development since March 2020.

The Sementis vaccine is intended to provide an Australian-owned and developed vaccine technology, complementing the existing vaccines being rolled out nationally and contributing to global solutions to Covid-19.

Prof Hayball has been awarded the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to fast-track human clinical trials of the Sementis vaccine within 18 months, and deliver long-term, and broad-ranging immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

“The SCV platform is the most advanced viral-vector vaccine platform technology to be developed in Australia,” Prof Hayball says.

“Crucially, our Sementis vaccine is anticipated to be effective against mutant strains of COVID-19.

“It will be a stand-alone addition to the suite of locally available vaccines, as well as a potent booster to all approved vaccines, protecting the health of all Australians. It is also expected to provide a strong boost to those who have already recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

A key advantage of the SCV platform is its unique ability to accommodate large amounts of genetic information and is therefore ideally suited to deliver more complex or multiple antigens to the immune system.

“This means that we can incorporate other antigenic proteins from SARS-CoV-2 into the vaccine with the aim to generate broad-ranging immunity and prevent transmission, areas of increasing importance in response to SARS-CoV-2 mutant strains.”

The Sementis vaccine is being developed with a view to large-scale manufacturing. A key component to moving forward will be the ability to transfer the vaccine from the laboratory to industrial processing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed serious shortcomings in Australia’s capacity to respond to emerging infectious disease threats,” Prof Hayball says.

“Until now, we have had no capacity to respond, but that is changing. We believe that UniSA and Sementis will not only be key contributors to curbing COVID-19, but in responding to future pandemic threats.

“There are many experimental vaccines in development that may or may not be effective in the fight against COVID-19, but unless they can be manufactured at scale, they will never be used to control the pandemic,” Prof Hayball says.

Prof Hayball has spent the past 10 years working with Sementis to develop vaccines to counter potential pandemics.

“From a personal point of view, this has been a journey of a lifetime. It’s obviously been a devastating pandemic but one that I have spent the past decade training for.”

Sementis Chief Executive Officer, Leanne Hobbs, says that pending the outcomes of the clinical trials and manufacturing capabilities, the vaccine could be ready to enter production in the second half of 2022.

“There is terrific vaccine R&D happening across Australia,” she says. “We are not only focused on contributing an Australian solution to the global fight against COVID-19; we also want to help build Australia’s capability to respond to the next pandemic.”

“Our focus is to develop our vaccine in the most robust way for a long-term public health outcome. We have an experienced team working on this project and now with the support of the MRFF we can now accelerate development of our vaccine candidate.

“This grant is a major endorsement of the potential of our technology, the product of our long-standing collaboration between Sementis and UniSA and we look forward to progressing our vaccine technology to improve health outcomes for the Australian community.”

The MRFF is a $20 billion long-term Federal Government investment supporting health and medical research.

Notes to editors

A video of Professor John Hayball discussing the vaccine is available at https://youtu.be/uHzJyrBJjtE

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