Synthetic Infection: A safe and targeted DNA vector encoding a SARS-CoV-2 Virus-Like Particle as a durable vaccine strategy against COVID-19

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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Professor Roderick Slavcev at the School of Pharmacy specializes in microbial genetics and biochemistry of nucleic acids and has experience in both academic and industrial settings. His current research encompasses genetics, molecular biology, virology and technology transfer with the goal to bring new therapeutic platforms and treatments to the global environment, and where possible in under-developed countries. In addition to active research, Professor Slavcev serves as the Director of Translational Initiatives for the Faculty of Science at UWaterloo where he works with professors and student teams to translate scientific initiatives and facilitate technological discovery and development.

Professor Slavcev is Founder, Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Director of Mediphage Bioceuticals, a Toronto-based genetic medicine company that has developed ministring DNA - a unique and novel gene delivery vector that harnesses the power to cure genetic diseases. Mediphage is currently developing world-class genetic medicines that utilize the ministring DNA platform to improve quality of life for patients suffering from chronic genetic diseases with few or no treatment options. He is also co-Founder and CEO of Theraphage Inc, designing and developing specialized, safe and effective bateriophage-based immunotherapeutics that can be accessed around the world.

The Slavcev lab team, in collaboration with Professors Marc Aucoin in Chemical Engineering and Emmanuel Ho in the School of Pharmacy is currently focusing on applying the new therapeutic platform for developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

This DNA-based vaccine platform can be delivered through a nasal spray, targeting the COVID-19 virus and other viruses as they emerge. The vaccine will work by using engineered bacteriophages, a process that will allow the vaccine to stimulate an immune response in the nasal cavity and target tissues in the lower respiratory tract. When completed, the vaccine will enter cells in targeted tissues and cause them to produce a virus-like particle (VLP) that will stimulate an immune response in people. The VLP will look similar to the structure of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19) but is harmless. This similarity will activate the body’s natural immune response to protect against viral infections comparable to VLPs, including SARS-CoV-2. It will also bind to receptors that SARS-CoV-2 would bind to, limiting the possible sites for transmission. By causing these changes in the body, the vaccine will build immunity against COVID-19 and decrease the severity of infections in progress – serving as both a therapeutic and a vaccine. Professor Roderick Slavcev will design the nanomedication that will be delivered by the nasal spray and Professor Marc Aucoin (Chemical Engineering) who will construct and purify the VLP and boosting immunity following the initial administration of the therapeutic vaccine.

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