A U.S. Army laboratory, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), a subordinate command of the Army Futures Command’s Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC), announced the selection of a lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate as well as two backup vaccine candidates that will advance to the next stage of research.
“USAMRDC is moving at unprecedented speeds in the effort to prevent, detect, and treat COVID-19. We are supporting the whole-of-government response with the scientific knowledge and expertise to combat this world-wide challenge,” said BG Michael J. Talley, commanding general of the USAMRDC and Fort Detrick. “With the recent selection of this vaccine candidate, we believe we are one step closer to that goal.”
The candidates were narrowed down from more than two dozen prototypes in order to determine the candidates that elicited the most promising antibody response in preclinical studies. The leading candidate is called SpFN, for Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle, and will enter first-in-human testing later this year.
“As soon as the virus sequence was published in January 2020, WRAIR began conceptualizing a vaccine strategy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch (EIDB) of WRAIR. “We have leveraged the Institute’s expertise and infrastructure to be able to compress what would, under normal circumstances, be two years of discovery and design work into several months.”
The vaccine is unique due to its ferritin nanoparticle platform that has been engineered to present specific pieces of the coronavirus spike protein (the part of the virus that attaches to the lungs) to the immune system. Researchers hope the ferritin vaccine platform could pave the way for a universal vaccine to protect against not only the current virus, but also other known and unknown coronaviruses that could arise in the future.
WRAIR’s vaccine is paired with a proprietary adjuvant, the Army Liposome Formulation (ALF), to further boost the immune response. This adjuvant, developed by Army scientists at WRAIR, has generated strong immune responses in preclinical studies.
“The vaccine that we have developed at WRAIR is exciting, but that is not the only way that the U.S. Army will contribute to COVID-19 vaccine development,” said Dr. Nelson Michael, Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at WRAIR. “We are heavily involved in detailed planning with our interagency partners to test the most promising COVID-19 vaccines at our clinical trial sites in the U.S. and around the world to ensure that we can deliver a safe, effective, and accessible vaccine in the shortest possible time.”
USAMRDC is also supporting Operation Warp Speed, an intergovernmental effort aimed at accelerating the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. The command is providing subject matter expertise in research, development, and acquisition with a unique, life-cycle approach.