MANHATTAN — Kansas State University has signed a new preclinical research and option agreement with Tonix Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, to develop a vaccine candidate for the prevention of COVID-19.
The inventor of the technology, Waithaka Mwangi, professor of diagnostic pathobiology in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, will direct the research, which is based on a new vaccine platform that his research team developed for bovine parainfluenza 3 virus, known as BPI3V, which is closely related to human parainfluenza 3 virus.
"A weakened BPI3V has previously been shown to be an effective vaccine vehicle in humans. More importantly, following extensive testing, BPI3V was shown to be safe and stable in infants and children," Mwangi said. "The vector is well suited for mucosal immunization using a nasal atomizer, but it can also be injected. Therefore, BPI3V is suitable for development of COVID-19 vaccine candidates."
The researchers focused on the most critical protein of coronaviruses: the spike protein. When a person is exposed to the virus, this protein is involved in the infection of the host cell. The vaccine candidate developed at K-State has been engineered to display the spike protein in a manner that mimics the actual virus.
While the majority of vaccines that are currently being developed will be injected into the body, according to Mwangi, the best vaccine will be one that will trigger immune protection, such as Immunoglobulin A, or IgA, at the mucosal surface, the portal of virus entry. IgA plays a crucial role in the immune function of mucous membranes. Instead of being injected, Mwangi's vaccine candidate would be sprayed in the nose to trigger the IgA response and block the virus's spike protein from infecting the host cells. The vaccine will also induce T cell responses capable of killing infected cells.
The research agreement, coordinated through K-State Innovation Partners, is the fourth license agreement between K-State and corporate partners on technologies related to COVID-19.
"The team at K-State Innovation Partners enjoyed working with Dr. Seth Lederman and his team from Tonix to efficiently negotiate an exclusive, field-of-use option and sponsored research agreement to fund additional research at the Biosecurity Research Institute on Dr. Mwangi's COVID-19 vaccine candidates," said Bret Ford, director of business development and licensing for K-State Innovation Partners. "The negotiations were approached with a high sense of urgency and we look forward to the company potentially commercializing our vaccine candidates to provide a solution for this global pandemic."
Mwangi's research will be conducted at the university's Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall, a biosafety level-3 facility.
"As the world's foremost global food and biosecurity science university, K-State is committed to understanding and combatting zoonotic diseases and the viruses that cause them like SARS-CoV-2," said Peter Dorhout, vice president for research at K-State. "To deploy our innovations at scale, our faculty need to combine forces with collaborative corporate partners like Tonix Pharmaceuticals as part of our land-grant mission to serve."