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Collaborative team of Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China scientists makes major breakthrough in development of potential COVID-19 vaccine for mass production

A team working out of the Faculty of Medicine at Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST), in collaboration with scientists from mainland China and Hong Kong, have made a potentially game changing breakthrough in their efforts to develop a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine that can be produced on a mass scale.

Research Professor Zhang Kang from the MUST Faculty of Medicine led the collaborative research team together with top scientists from many renowned institutions in mainland China and Hong Kong.

The peer-reviewed results from the team’s research were published in the leading British science journal Nature on Wednesday 29 July. WGI understands the breakthrough is amongst the most significant yet in overcoming the global pandemic.

The research found that a vaccine developed using certain residues found in the Spike protein receptor-binding domain (S-RBD) – which is what the virus uses to engage with the cells of the host and cause infection – induced a “potent functional antibody response” in immunized mice, rabbits and monkeys. These antibodies effectively blocked S-RBD from binding with the host cell receptor as it does in cases of infection, therefore neutralizing the virus during laboratory studies.

Importantly, immunization was effective from just a single dose and produced the antibody response as early as 7 or 14 days after injection. Elevated RBD-specific antibodies were also found in patients with COVID-19.

“The fact that our candidate RBD vaccine can induce effective viral neutralizing activity in three different animal species … is very encouraging,” the study explains.

“It is also encouraging to observe (a) that the antibodies shared common binding epitopes from infected patients, (b) that there is a strong viral neutralizing activity associated with a good humoral response, (c) that a simple vaccine adjuvant like Alum can further enhance the immune response, (d) that even one dose of the vaccine can already generated an excellent level of viral neutralizing activity, (e) that the vaccine can protect non-human primates from live [COVID-19] challenge, and (f) that the toxicology studies in the non-human primates showed that this vaccine candidate is safe.

“All these features are excellent prospects in supporting the further development of this vaccine candidate.”

The study also noted the significance of how quickly the vaccine sparked an antibody response.

“Given the current pandemic, developing some type of viral neutralizing activity around 7 days after the first dose would be very helpful,” it says.

“This effect may have tremendous impact on treating infected individuals and preventing the spread of [COVID-19] in the populations.

“Our finding highlights the importance of the RBD domain in the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine design and provides the rationale for the development of a protective vaccine through the induction of antibody against the RBD domain.”

The research paper published in Nature this week included 86 authors. IAG understands that more than 100 scientists have been involved in this collaborative effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine.

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