Thomas Jefferson University's Vaccine Center is developing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that uses the existing rabies vaccine as a carrier for the SARS-CoV-2 antigen. A partnership with Bharat Biotech will help with end-to-end development for the vaccine, from clinical trials to commercial licensure.

Jefferson partners with Indian biotech firm on dual COVID-19-rabies vaccine

Instead of using the entire SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Jefferson team has embedded its characteristic spike protein within a killed rabies vaccine to induce antibody responses against both diseases. "We are leveraging the properties of a very effective vaccine – one that provides lifelong immunity against one of the biggest global threats of our time,” said Dr. Mark Tykocinski, dean of Jefferson's Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Bharat Biotech, located in Hyderabad in southern India, will facilitate end-to-end development of the vaccine, from clinical trials to commercial licensure, per its agreement with Jefferson. The company also receives exclusive rights to develop, market and deliver the vaccine across the world, with the exception of the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries where Jefferson continues to seek partners. “We will be able to complete animal testing and move to phase 1 clinical trial rapidly." An infectious diseases expert, Schnell led the development of previous rabies vaccines that were proven safe and effective in animal models when used as carriers in response to the 2003 SARS and 2012 MERS epidemics. Preliminary tests of the new vaccine in animal models have shown a strong antibody response in mice. The rabies vaccine also can be produced in a shelf-stable, dehydrated form — making it easy to reconstitute in any location. "Bharat Biotech is committed to global public health and will be involved in an end-to-end development of the vaccine including comprehensive clinical trials to achieve commercial licensure," said CEO Dr. Krishna Mohan, who noted that the current goal is to begin initial human clinical trials by December. "Since we know the immune system reacts to the rabies vaccine with a strong response when we add the coronavirus component, we expect to see that level of protection, and immune memory, carry over to the SARS-CoV-2 viral protein as well," Schnell said.

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