The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) recently shared results of a joint research of the RNA-based vaccine platform for MERS-CoV, conducted by a research team led by Dr. Keum Gyo-chang and Dr. Bang Eun-kyoung from the KIST’s Center for Neuro-Medicine and a research team led by Professor Nam Jae-Hwan with the Catholic University of Korea (CUK, President Won Jong-chul). Actually a vaccine platform, KIST seeks to leverage the investigational product for the development of a COVID-19 virus vaccine.
What is the context or background for this Korean vaccine effort?
South Korea was hit by the 2015 outbreak of MERS, a coronavirus epidemic and part of the same family of viruses responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The team at KIST developed a new vaccine platform based on RNA-based adjuvants for the MERS coronavirus (MERC-CoV)—thereafter, they leveraged this platform for conducting an experiment on nonhuman primates. The team in Korea believes that this work forms the foundational prerequisite for imminent COVID-19 vaccine development.
Why do the Korean researchers need to develop a stable adjuvant?
Recently, a number of protein-based vaccines which are considered safe have been developed. However, protein-based vaccines are known to induce a weak human immune response in the human antibody-producing cells. Hence the need to develop highly stable adjuvants to assure greater balanced human responses.
How did this joint effort proceed?
Research team members representing CUK and KIST proceeded to mix 1) RNA of the cricket paralysis virus, an adjuvant developed by the CUK research team, and 2) RNA stabilizer including zinc complex. The mixture was used to produce a vaccine along with the spike protein of the MERS-CoV, all administered to a group of mice.
What were the results with the testing in mice?
The team accomplished an inoculation, which evidenced the vaccine to have adequate protective efficacy—100% protective efficacy in defense of lethal doses of the virus. Moreover, EurekAlert! reported the MERS-CoV infection via the induction of high neutralizing antibodies when the same vaccine was administered to macaque monkeys—non human primates. As reported in the press release, the RNA adjuvant and stabilizer combined can be used with most vaccine types, such as protein-based vaccines and inactivated vaccines, implying a broad range of use.
Dr. Keum Gyo-chang from KIST reported on the effort, “This RNA adjuvant formulated protein vaccine, which has shown efficacy against the MERS virus, has the advantage of rapid application to the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, which is caused by the same type of virus that cause MERS.” Additionally, CUK researcher Professor Nam Jae-Hwan explained, “The nucleic acid (DNA or RNA)-based vaccines that have recently been reported, have not previously been produced as vaccine products and have not gone through large-scale clinical trials. In contrast, the protein based vaccine is mainly used vaccine platform. In this study, we added RNA as adjuvant to protein vaccine whose safety has already been proven. We expect that this new vaccine platform will enable the development of a safe vaccine.”
Dr. Keum Gyo-chang, PhD, KIST
Dr. Bang Eun-kyoung, PhD, KIST
Call to Action: Utilizing the vaccine platform from KIST, the CUK team (leveraging funds from Samkwang Labree) is working on a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as one for “severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome.” Moreover, a research consortium has been formed with SK Bioscience to manage the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. TrialSite News will track this new consortium.