Scancell Holdings has secured funding of around £2 million from Innovate UK to initiate a Phase I clinical trial of an experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Scancell’s DNA vaccines target dendritic cells to stimulate high avidity T cells that identify and destroy diseased cells.

This technology has been successfully applied with Scancell’s lead ImmunoBody cancer vaccine, SCIB1, which was safely administered to patients with malignant melanoma in a Phase I/II clinical trial with “outstanding five-year survival,” according to the firm.

Scancell aims to use this technology platform to produce a simple, safe, cost-effective and scalable vaccine that induces both durable T cell responses and virus neutralising antibodies (VNAbs) to provide long-lasting immunity against COVID-19.

The vaccine will target the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein in addition to the key receptor-binding domain of the spike (S) protein, in order to generate both T cell responses and VNAbs against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

As the N protein is highly conserved amongst coronaviruses, this new vaccine has the potential to generate protection not only against SARS-CoV-2, but also against new strains of coronavirus that may arise in the future.

“T cells, and particularly high avidity T cells, are becoming increasingly recognised as an important factor in vaccine design for inducing long-term immunity against SARS CoV-2,” noted Professor Lindy Durrant, Scancell's chief scientific officer.

“Patients who had recovered from the original 2003 SARS infection have measurable T cell responses many years following recovery. We have been able to translate our ability to stimulate high avidity T cells to treat melanoma into a vaccine that can potentially provide an effective and durable immune response to COVID-19.”

“Although other vaccines are already in clinical trials, we believe that our approach could result in a second generation vaccine with more potent and long-lasting responses, particularly in the elderly, leading to better protection against COVID-19,” added Dr Cliff Holloway, the firm's chief executive.