ConserV Bioscience Limited (“ConserV”), a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on developing vaccines that protect against endemic and emergent infectious diseases, has been awarded UK Aid funding to advance the development of its pan-coronavirus vaccine candidate, UNICOR-v.
The project was selected by the UK Vaccine Network (UKVN) for the award under the competition “Vaccines for epidemic diseases: Readiness for clinical development and regulatory submission.” This is one of the twenty-two projects funded by the Department of Health and Social Care as part of the UKVN, a UK Aid program to develop vaccines for diseases with epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).
ConserV specializes in identifying broadly protective antigens for highly mutable viruses. The grant will fund the preclinical development of an intra-dermal formulation of UNICOR-v, which consists of twelve antigens from conserved regions of internal viral proteins that include clusters of reactive T-cell epitopes for multiple human leukocyte antigens (HLAs).
The project will compare four different formulations of UNICOR-v, delivering antigens as synthetic peptides or encoded in mRNA. Preclinical immunogenicity and efficacy of the candidate vaccines will be evaluated, providing the necessary evidence to enter clinical trials.
UNICOR-v aims to protect against all coronaviruses including those from alpha, beta, delta, and gamma genera. The betacoronavirus genus includes SARS-Cov-1, responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003, MERS, responsible for the outbreak in 2012-13, and SARS-Cov-2, responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, all of which originated from viruses jumping from animal hosts to humans. Alphacoronaviruses include strains responsible for the common cold in humans amongst other viruses that infect other mammals.
Gammacoronaviruses are mainly found in birds, whereas delta coronavirus infects mammals and birds. UNICOR-v has the potential to protect against future epidemics caused by a coronavirus jumping from animals to humans, but also against new variants emerging from SARS-Cov-2, avoiding the need for frequent booster vaccinations in response to variants that escape vaccine-induced antibody responses.
Scientists predict that the frequency and severity of epidemics are increasing, driven by human activities and their impact on the environment. Designing a vaccine as an emergency response to an emergent virus takes time during which millions of lives are at risk and considerable economic damage can be done, as demonstrated in the Covid-19 pandemic. pre-pandemic vaccines are necessary to protect against viruses that have not yet emerged in humans.
Kimbell Duncan, Chief Executive Officer of ConserV Bioscience, commented: “Our mission is to develop safe and effective vaccines which offer broad protection against infections from viruses that mutate frequently. We are grateful to the UKVN and Innovate UK for being selected for this award which will help us advance UNICOR-v into clinical trials.”
Dr. Olga Pleguezuelos, Chief Science Officer of ConserV, commented: “We are very excited to advance the development of UNICOR-v with UKVN and Innovate UK’s support. ConserV Bioscience is committed to creating a vaccine that provides readiness against future coronaviruses.”