LLNL coronavirus work

LLNL researchers Nick Fischer and Amy Rasley are characterizing nanolipoprotein particle vaccine formulations using a dynamic light-scattering instrument. Detailed characterization of the nanoparticles provides an important quality control metric for vaccine development. A United Kingdom company, ConserV Bioscience Limited, and LLNL have agreed to work on developing a universal coronavirus vaccine.

Lawrence Livermore National Labratory announced on Tuesday that it would be collaborating with London-based ConserV Bioscience Limited to develop a broad-spectrum COVID-19 vaccine.

This would be different from current coronavirus vaccines on the market produced by companies like Pfizer and Moderna, as it would address all coronavirus-related strains in a universal sense. According to LLNL biologists, this type of broadly protective coronavirus vaccine does not currently exist and would be the first of its kind.

"With the success of the current licensed SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and the clear demonstration of the efficacy of mRNA-based vaccines, we and others are shifting focus to develop pan-coronavirus vaccines using a similar mRNA-based approach. These vaccines could provide broad protective immunity to multiple coronavirus strains currently circulating as well as those that have yet to emerge," said LLNL biologist Amy Rasley.

According to a joint press release sent out by LLNL and CBL, coronaviruses are a group of single-stranded RNA viruses that can cause mild to lethal effects in humans. The design of the new vaccine would provide protections against virus pathogens like and related to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS, 2012), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS, 2002) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

Discussions between LLNL and CBL began in fall 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the urgent medical needs brought on by the newest coronavirus strain, an agreement between the two companies was quickly put in place. CBS' expertise in identifying antigens from the viruses and LLNL's nanolipoprotein delivery system — which would help avoid cold chain storage and transport issues — prompted the partnership.

“We are pleased to be working with the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division at LLNL to develop our broad-spectrum coronavirus vaccine candidate,” said Kimbell Duncan, CEO of ConserV Bioscience. “We have identified regions within the proteins of the virus that are not susceptible to change and if effective, the vaccine promises to protect against a broad spectrum of current circulating coronavirus strains and future emergent ones.”

Though no timeline for development and clinical trials have been set, pre-clinical studies will begin in the next two months. LLNL and CBL said they hope to move the vaccine candidate to human trials as soon as possible once things get moving.

"These two technologies are still in the pre-clinical phase. Once we have demonstrated that both the delivery formulation and mRNA vaccine component together elicit robust immune responses in the pre-clinical model, we will have a better understanding of the timeline," said LLNL biologist Nick Fischer, who joins Rasley as a fellow principle investigator on the project.

According to Rasley and Fischer, the partnership between the two companies represents a first step towards the kinds of collaborations that will be necessary to fully realize the potential of a "pan-coronavirus vaccine."

• Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 209-835-3030.

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