UK-based Scancell Holdings has selected a lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate – SN14 – to advance through further development and into clinical trials.

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.

Scancell’s designed candidates to 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.

The company evaluated 15 vaccine candidates, containing different S and N components combined with a number of targeting technologies, for the ‘best’ T cell and antibody responses.

Following this, Scancell found that SN14 elicited high virus neutralising antibodies (VNAbs) as well as high avidity T cells, against both the S and N proteins.

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,

The lead vaccine candidate also utilises Scancell’s AvidiMab technology to further boost the immune response.

“We are very excited about our SN14 second generation COVID-19 vaccine which could have significant advantages over first generation vaccines, either on its own or in combination with other vaccines to broaden and strengthen the immune response for long term protection,” said Lindy Durrant, chief scientific officer of Scancell.

In August, Scancell secured funding of around £2m from Innovate UK to initiate a phase I clinical trial of an experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Following this, the company partnered with Cobra Biologics in October to conduct preliminary work leading to the manufacture of SN14, with the aim of launching the phase 1 COVIDITY trial ‘as soon as possible in 2021’.