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Alberta COVID-19 vaccine advancing to human testing

Health Matters: Alberta COVID-19 vaccine advancing to human testing
Health Matters June 25: A COVID-19 vaccine developed in Edmonton is advancing to human trials this summer. As Su-Ling Goh reports, a $4.2 million federal research grant will help take the project to the next step.

A COVID-19 vaccine developed in Edmonton is moving forward to human trials this summer.

Entos Pharmaceuticals, led by University of Alberta researcher Dr. John Lewis, has selected two promising vaccine prototypes to start testing in people.

“We have two really excellent candidates that produce a very strong neutralizing antibody immune response [in animals],” Lewis told Global News.

The Government of Canada has granted Lewis $4.2 million to take the project to the next step, part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research rapid research funding competition, which awarded $109 million to 139 research teams across the country this month.

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The Entos vaccine is DNA-based. Unlike a traditional vaccine which gives patients an inactive virus to teach the body to fight the real thing, a genetic vaccine supplies a DNA blueprint for battle.

“[The DNA vaccine] just delivers the instructions so that the patient can make the vaccine in their own cells,” explained Lewis.

The Entos CEO said the method, named Fusogenix, has several advantages: stronger defence, a more stable vaccine and the ability to make a lot of product quickly.

“We’re working with a dose that can produce a very strong immune response, but will also allow us to scale up and manufacture sufficient doses for the Canada population.”

Entos will partner with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia for Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials.

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“We’re looking roughly at about 70 to 75 [healthy volunteer] patients in that Phase 1 portion… We’ll be doing different dose levels, but also looking at different age population cohorts,” said Lewis.

“As we improve safety in those cohorts, we’ll move those into a Phase 2 setting, where we could use 600 to 800 patients.”

Phase 1 is expected to start in August in Halifax. Phase 2 could start in September, expanding across Canada and the U.S.

It is hoped Phase 3 can begin by the end of 2020. That portion would involve working with the World Health Organization to test the vaccine in regions of the world where there is active COVID-19 infection.

Lewis says his team is excited about the research, and Canadians seem enthusiastic too. There has been no shortage of volunteers.

“I think a lot of people are sitting at home and are frustrated that they can’t maybe do what they’re normally doing, so we’re seeing a lot of interest in participating in the trial.”

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