In a Jan. 29 statement, VGXI said it had entered into an agreement with Pennsylvania-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals to produce a coronavirus vaccine. The effort is being funded by a grant of up to $9 million awarded to the collaborators by the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation.
“The research process and vaccine development work is being conducted by Inovio Pharmaceuticals and their collaborators at the Wistar Institute. Manufacturing of the coronavirus DNA vaccine for use in human clinical testing will occur at the VGXI facility in The Woodlands,” said Christy Franco, VGXI senior manager of business development, in an email.
The new virus, 2019-nCoV, first appeared in Wuhan, China late last year and its spread was declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization in January, according to WHO. It is related to viruses such as SARS and MERS in the coronavirus family that have also resulted in outbreaks, according to VGXI. Eleven people in five states have tested positive for the virus since it was first detected in the U.S. Jan. 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both Inovio and VGXI have recent experience in fast-paced vaccine development. Inovio stated it is preparing a MERS vaccine for a second trial phase in the Middle East, and the two companies announced they had also participated in vaccine development and manufacturing efforts against the Zika virus.
“VGXI has been manufacturing DNA vaccines for use in human clinical testing for nearly 20 years. VGXI’s DNA manufacturing platform can be rapidly deployed and has been proven at large scales,” Franco said.
VGXI was founded in 1997 and opened its office in The Woodlands in 2001. More than 50 employees will be involved in the company’s campaign to produce a coronavirus vaccine, according to Franco.
VGXI began preparing to manufacture the vaccine in January, Franco said. J. Joseph Kim, Inovio president and chief executive officer, said that company hopes to bring a vaccine to human trials in under one year.
Maria Elena Bottazzi, an associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, said the advancement of the new vaccine could be further expedited given the urgency surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
“You can probably accelerate a little bit rather than just taking all the time you want, because we have an emergency situation right now,” Bottazzi said. “What’s important is that you engage not only the research community but certainly the regulatory community. ... It’s probably going to be a comprehensive approach that they’re taking.”
As officials and health experts monitor the new coronavirus’ outbreak in China and subsequent spread around the world, they have urged people to avoid panic in the U.S. while avoiding possible exposure to the virus. The CDC has advised against travel to China, and some airlines have suspended their flights to the country.
Officials also recommend observing common hygienic practices and getting regular flu shots during the ongoing influenza season. More than 8,600 people have been hospitalized with the flu since October, according to the CDC.
“As a reminder to everyone, I think it is more concerning to keep an eye on the fact that there’s probably more influenza floating around right now,” Bottazzi said. “Use the flu vaccine so that you certainly can reduce the fact that you can get flu, which is probably much more important in our region right now ... If you are sick, really don't rush into the emergency rooms, stay home, call your primary care doctor.”
More information on the new coronavirus can be found here.