UH Med Now
UH researcher’s team helps develop vaccine for COVID-19
Pictured: Axel Lehrer, PhD in his lab. Deborah Manog Dimaya photo.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the need for a vaccine to prevent the spread of the flu-like virus grows. University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa scientist Axel Lehrer is among those helping in that global fight. He is working in collaboration with New Jersey-based biopharmaceutical company Soligenix, Inc. to develop potential coronavirus vaccines, including one for the novel COVID-19 disease.
Lehrer and his team of about a dozen lab colleagues in the JABSOM Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology have previously demonstrated the feasibility of developing an Ebola virus vaccine. Using the same technology platform, they are hopeful their development for a COVID-19 vaccine will also prove to be successful.
In contrast to other coronavirus vaccines that use an RNA-based approach that is quicker to test in humans, the recombinant subunit vaccine Lehrer is developing takes a more conventional approach used for many proven vaccines currently on the market.
“We’re making antigen, the protein that will make you resistant to the virus. We make those antigens that will give a solid immune response. Our product will take between six to nine months to be ready for clinical trials, but the immune response you develop is much more potent (in comparison to RNA-based vaccines),” said Lehrer.
Lehrer believes the recombinant subunit vaccine is the right approach for COVID-19. “It can be used in any person, in immunocompromised people, in the elderly and in small children. The safety margin is very good and that’s why we believe it could be a major contribution to the field,” he said.
The next stage in the development process for the vaccine is to conduct test trials in small animals, which will commence in the next few weeks.
Along with Soligenix, Lehrer and his team are also working with Hawaii Biotech Inc., a Hawaiʻi-based subunit vaccine developer.