Quadram researchers working on COVID-19 vaccine join WHO expert groups

7th May 2020

Quadram researchers working on COVID-19 vaccine join WHO expert groups

Quadram Institute researchers who are working on a new drug delivery method for a COVID-19 vaccine have joined World Health Organization (WHO) expert advisory groups tackling the coronavirus.

Professor Simon Carding of the Quadram Institute and University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School has been asked to join WHO’s COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group on vaccine prioritisation and Dr Simon Funnell, of the Quadram Institute and Public Health England, is on the COVID-19 expert advisory group on animal models.

Prof Carding and his co-researchers from the University of Kent and the University of Liverpool are working on a new drug delivery method for COVID-19 vaccines. Professor Mark Smales (University of Kent) sits on WHO’s expert group for assays development for vaccines and Professor James Stewart (University of Liverpool) is on the expert group for animal models.

The three UK-based scientists are working on new approaches for vaccine delivery developed by Quadram Institute Bioscience (QIB) based on engineering the natural ability of resident gut bacteria to generate nanoparticle sized Outer Membrane Vesicles (OMVs). An OMV-based COVID-19 vaccine has now also been included in the WHO landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines.

OMV-based vaccines present unique and significant advantages compared to other vaccines. Drug  administration is easier and non-invasive, i.e. needle-free, via oral or nasal routes. The vaccine can be easily, rapidly and cost-efficiently adapted and re-formulated to potential virus mutations and different virus subtypes.

This method has previously been tested for other types of viruses such as influenza in pre-clinical models and OMV-based vaccines are proven with meningococcal vaccines already in use and with excellent safety records. These vaccines are safer and present considerably lower risks of side-effects.

They are non-recombinant, non-live organisms and have a very strong chemistry of the binding domains, making them very robust. The immunogenicity is particularly targeted to the respiratory mucosa, preventing the risk of undesirable systemic effects. OMV-based vaccines are also more natural as they present adjuvant properties, and do not require additional chemicals. This type of vaccine is also very stable and can be stored for months without cold storage and even longer in its lyophilised form.

The WHO’s COVID Expert Advisory Groups meet monthly and convene all vaccine developers to share high-level plans and status on clinical development, identify critical research and development gaps and help determine whether WHO can have a role in addressing those gaps.

Professor Carding said: “The WHO expert advisory group I’ve joined is reviewing data from  from vaccine developers in closed session for evaluation. Assuming there is sufficient transmission of COVID-19 globally, WHO will facilitate the implementation of the evaluation of the prioritized vaccines in countries with sufficient anticipated transmission.

“Being asked to work on a WHO expert advisory group is always an honour. As a researcher, it’s a reflection of the impact of your research and expertise built up over the years and, of course, it’s a privilege to be able to help the global response to COVID-19, alongside your peers, through the World Health Organization.”

Notes to editors

The Quadram Institute is an interdisciplinary research centre at the forefront of a new era of food and health research. It brings together researchers and clinicians under one roof and houses one of Europe’s largest endoscopy units and a clinical research facility.

Based on the Norwich Research Park, the Quadram Institute is a partnership between Quadram Institute Bioscience, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of East Anglia and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Quadram’s mission is to deliver healthier lives through innovation in gut health, microbiology and food and its vision is to understand how food and microbes interact to promote health and prevent disease.

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