New Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford begins early-stage human trials

The vaccine uses a virus-like particle from the Hepatitis B antigen as a carrier, employing the ‘superglue’ technology


MELBOURNE • A new experimental Covid-19 vaccine originating from the University of Oxford has begun human trials in Australia in partnership with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.

The shot was devised by SpyBiotech, a UK company spun out of Oxford in 2017 by researchers who worked alongside Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert at the university’s Jenner Institute. The institute has one of the most advanced Covid-19 shots currently in final-stage trials in partnership with AstraZeneca plc.

SpyBiotech’s experimental shot, one of several dozen vaccines in human trials around the world, has begun going into volunteers in a Phase I/II trial in Australia run by the Serum Institute, which will eventually enrol several hundred participants, said Sumi Biswas, the company’s CEO and a professor at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.

The vaccine uses a virus-like particle from the Hepatitis B antigen as a carrier, employing the company’s proprietary SpyCatcher/SpyTag “superglue” technology to attach the coronavirus spike protein to induce an immune response. The virus-like-particle has been used for decades in a licensed vaccine against Hepatitis B. SpyBiotech’s technology allows antigens to be bonded to virus-like-particles in a way that enhances stability and effectiveness, Biswas said in an interview.

“It is a bacterial superglue technology which allows you to attach antigens onto different vaccine delivery platforms,” she said. “Covid-19 has definitely accelerated the development of our company’s platform.”

SpyBiotech has an exclusive licensing agreement with the Serum Institute for the vaccine. The institute reached a licensing deal with AstraZeneca earlier this year to produce one billion doses of the Oxford shot developed by Gilbert. — Bloomberg