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Developing a Gene-based Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

In This Article

  • Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts Eye and Ear are developing an experimental vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2, called AAVCOVID
  • The AAVCOVID strategy uses an adeno-associated viral vector technology to induce immunity in healthy populations
  • The vaccine candidate is currently in preclinical development
  • Clinical studies planned for later this year will determine the safety and efficacy of the approach

Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a vaccine candidate for COVID-19, which they plan to test in humans within the year.

The vaccine, called AAVCOVID, is the product of a unique, gene-based approach that uses adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector technology to help the body develop an immune response to the virus.

The AAVCOVID vaccine program was developed in the laboratory of Luk H. Vandenberghe, PhD, director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Work in the laboratory began in mid-January after the first research papers on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan were published.

AAV technology delivers genetic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 using an AAV vector as a vehicle into the body. The technology has been used extensively in the field of gene therapy, and in recent years, two AAV-based drugs have been approved by the FDA.

Dr. Vandenberghe says that AAV is a superior technology for safe and efficient gene delivery. He continues that the unique technologies being applied in AAVCOVID support the potential for a potent immunity against SARS-CoV-2 from a single intramuscular injection.

Tests are currently underway in animal models, and a plan is in place to begin clinical testing in humans later this year.

Mason Freeman, MD, director and founder of the Mass General Translational Research Center, is leading the effort to develop a clinical study to establish safety and efficacy of the experimental vaccine. Dr. Freeman described the vaccine candidate as an elegant and extremely creative approach that is designed to protect vulnerable patients as well as the health care workers who care for them.

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