Vaccine developers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) have taken a part of the coronavirus involved in COVID-19 infection and attached it to a genetically modified measles vaccine that has been used for many years.1
According to CVR Director Dr. Paul Duprex, “CVR has a mandated role to respond rapidly to global outbreaks such as COVID-19; to develop animal models of disease; to use these to test the efficacy of candidate vaccines such as recombinant measles viruses expressing a range of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] genes.”2
CVR Will Get COVID-19 Vaccine Grant from CEPI
The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research, as well as Themis Bioscience in Austria and Institute Pasteur in France, are part of an international group receiving a $4.9 million grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a COVID-19 vaccine candidate based on measles-vector technology.2
Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said that they selected CVR, Themis Bioscience and Institute Pasteur as recipients of the grant to create the COVID-19 candidate vaccine because of the science behind their proposed strategy to use measles-vector technology.2
The measles vaccine is used here as a vehicle. Using the measles vaccine (also called MV) as a vector, recombinant vaccines can be designed to express antigens from other pathogens” including MERS, HIV and yellow fever among others.2
The use of the modified MV as a vehicle for vaccination against these pathogens makes it possible to deliver the antigens directly in the compartments of the immune system capable of inducing a protective memory response.2
CVR Receives Samples of Coronavirus for Vaccine Development
University of Pittsburgh’s CVR was one of the first research labs in the United States to receive the samples of the coronavirus in February 2020 from an infected patient in the state of Washington.2 The small vial contained a half milliliter of fluid and 50 to 60 million coronavirus particles. Dr. Duprex explained it was received in a box. Inside the box was dry ice and another box. After the second box was opened, there was a special container in which the sample was placed.3
The residents of Pittsburgh were concerned about samples of COVID-19 being sent to their city; however, Dr. Duprex reassured them of the safety measure taken to safely transport the virus. He said the box was transported by air and ground using approved shippers experienced in safely transporting biological and infectious materials. He stated, “Which is why we have the confidence we can do this safely, because we have done it for over 10 years. We have been rigorously inspected by the Centers for Disease Control.”3
Vaccine Candidate to be Tested in Lab Animals
The measles-vector coronavirus vaccine candidate will be tested in animal models to determine whether or not lab animals produce antibodies to both the measles virus, which researchers are expecting that it should, and also antibodies against the novel coronavirus.1
1 Dayton R. Pitt Researchers Attach Coronavirus To Genetically Modified Measles Vaccine. CBS Pittsburgh Mar. 20, 2020.
2 Hamill S. Pitt part of international consortium to get COVID-19 vaccine grant. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Mar. 19, 2020.
3 Hoffman C. Vial Of Coronavirus Coming To Pitt’s Center For Vaccine Research Lab. CBS Pittsburgh Feb. 14, 2020.
4 Schackner B. Pitt to acquire samples of coronavirus for development of treatments, including vaccine. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Feb. 12, 2020.