With many vaccines reaching human clinical trials, there is increased optimism regarding the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is a general consensus among experts that it will take several different vaccines to immunize the world’s population. This is why it’s encouraging to see many vaccine candidates from diverse countries in the world – including here in Canada.
One vaccine being developed in Canada shows unique promise – DPX-COVID-19. This vaccine is being developed by IMV Inc., which has its headquarters in Dartmouth, NS and corporate offices in Quebec City. The Company started to work with renowned experts very early in the pandemic, and, in mid-March, they announced that they were joining the fight against the novel coronavirus while pursuing the clinical development of their lead compound in several cancer indications.
What makes DPX-COVID-19 unique is its state-of-the-art delivery platform, DPX, which not only generates a powerful, targeted immune response but also minimizes side effects. Previous studies with DPX-based vaccines and cancer immunotherapies have demonstrated long-term efficacy in elderly or immunosuppressed populations, making this vaccine ideal for populations that need the vaccine the most.
From grey seals to vaccines and cancer immunotherapies – IMV’s Story
IMV was founded to solve a specifically Canadian problem and has grown to now address one of the largest global problems in a generation. In the 1980s, a growing seal population threatened the fisheries of Atlantic Canada. The Canadian Ministry of Fisheries turned to Dalhousie University scientists, including Dean of Sciences, Dr. Warwick Kimmins. They created a contraceptive vaccine to limit the seal population.
The team gradually perfected a method of delivering the vaccine in order to keep the immune system active for a longer period of time. This emulsion-based delivery formulation became the current DPX platform that IMV uses today.
IMV scientists turned to using their state-of-the-art technology for human vaccines and cancer immunotherapy. They’ve had much success developing novel cancer therapies, and a vaccine against RSV (another respiratory virus). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the IMV team knew they had to contribute.
From Fighting Cancer to COVID-19
The DPX delivery platform generates a targeted immune response against the elements (antigens or epitopes) that it is formulated with. Thanks to its versatility, the DPX platform allowed IMV to seamlessly switch from targeting cancer cells to targeting the coronavirus and infected cells.
IMV scientists used gene sequences of SARS-CoV-2 and immunoinformatics to identify several hundred epitopes. Twenty-three of these molecules were selected for their potential to generate neutralizing antibodies, and four of the most immunogenic were selected to form DPX-COVID-19 (see press release).
Not only is this vaccine made in Canada, it’s also Canadian-funded. The vaccine project is being funded by several Canadian government agencies: the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) are contributing $4.15 million. IMV is receiving an additional $600,000 from the NRC IRAP Innovation Assistance Program (IRAP IAP).
DPX-COVID-19 has an advantage over other vaccine candidates because of its use in oncology populations. Most cancer patients are older and have received several lines of treatments, including chemotherapy. As a result, they are often severely immunosuppressed. IMV’s cancer therapies have had good results in treating cancer patients while limiting side effects, which is a good harbinger for its ability to protect populations at high risk for COVID-19. In a previous clinical study, DPX-RSV, another DPX-based vaccine, has shown effectiveness in older adults even one year after the vaccination. To demonstrate its value in the older population, IMV will conduct its phase 1 clinical trial in healthy adults across two age cohorts: (1) adults between 18-55 years old inclusive, and (2) 56 and above.
Another benefit of DPX-COVID-19 over other vaccines is that it targets 3 non-overlapping locations on the spike of the virus. This makes it more accurate because the immune system is unlikely to mis-identify all 3 areas. It also ensures that the vaccine will remain effective for the long-term future because the virus is unlikely to mutate in all 3 areas.
The vaccine is also easy to manufacture quickly, which is vital for rapid and equal distribution to the world’s population. It is fully synthetic, meaning it is much faster to produce than a vaccine that contains biological agents. The volume needed to produce one dose is also minimal compared to other vaccines, which speeds up production and also makes the vaccine safer. DPX-COVID-19 also has an extended shelf life compared to other vaccines.
When Will the Vaccine Be Ready?
DPX-COVID-19 has undergone extensive preclinical testing and is entering phase 1 human trials this summer. The randomized, placebo-controlled trial will include approximately 84 healthy subjects in two age strata – 18-55 and 56 and over.
Preliminary results of this first phase should be available in the fall, which should allow IMV to start phase 2 human trials before the end of 2020. Ideally, the DPX-COVID-19 vaccine would be ready in the first half of 2021. Due to its advantages for people at high risk, the vaccine will initially primarily be available to vulnerable populations.
To put this timeline in perspective, the fastest a vaccine has been developed so far is the mumps vaccine, which took 4 years. IMV is hoping to develop their DPX-COVID-19 vaccine in one year. There are many factors to consider when trying to develop a vaccine that quickly, including logistics.
How is Bay Area Research Logistics Helping?
For a vaccine to be developed and distributed in a timely fashion, effective and efficient logistics are critical. Much more goes into a successful clinical trial than just getting the science right. There is a panoply of regulations to maneuver and many specialized products to procure to run a trial.
Bay Area Research Logistics has helped IMV throughout the entire vaccine testing process with logistics, labelling, packaging and procurement. They’ve been in contact with the vaccine team weekly, ensuring processes are optimal and efficient. IMV is not leaving anything to chance – delays in the trial process for DPX-COVID-19 could mean more lives lost to COVID-19. This is why they are working with Bay Area Research Logistics to expedite development.
If you’re running a clinical trial and also can’t afford any delays in the trial process, contact Bay Area Research Logistics and find out how to get your product to market faster.