Scancell’s unique DNA vaccine approach is to target dendritic cells. The resultant T cell specific responses are both high frequency and high avidity. As COVID-19 research data emerges, it is becoming increasingly clear that the induction of potent and activated T cells may play a critical role in the development of long-term immunity and clearance of virus-infected cells. Scancell therefore plans to use its proven cancer vaccine concept to design a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Scancell’s DNA vaccine will target the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein and the key receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike (S) protein to generate both T cell responses and virus neutralising antibodies (VNAbs) against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The N protein is highly conserved amongst coronaviruses; therefore, this new vaccine has the potential to generate protection not only against SARS-CoV-2, but also against new strains of coronavirus that may arise in the future.

The key design features of Scancell’s SARS-Cov-2 vaccine include:

  • Identical plasmid backbone structure to ImmunoBody® SCIB1 already shown to be safe in humans;
  • T cell epitopes from N and S proteins predicted to bind to both MHC class I (for the cytotoxic CD8 Tc cell response) and MHC class II (for the CD4 Th cell response);
  • Inclusion of trimeric RBD region of S protein to focus neutralising antibody response to block virus entry via the ACE2 receptor;
  • Inclusion of motifs (e.g., GC rich regions) to ensure it is immunogenic and that it is taken up directly by dendritic cells.

Development of the Covid-19 vaccine is being carried out in collaboration with scientists in the newly established Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections and the new Biodiscovery Institute at the University of Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent University. The goal of the initial work is to assess safety and immune responses in a Phase 1 clinical trial (‘COVIDITY’).