Ultrapotent, nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine with Univ. of Wash. roots gets $173M for human trials

An image of the nanoparticle with spike proteins used in a newly developed COVID-19 vaccine candidate. (Ian Haydon / UW Institute for Protein Design)

A project to test what’s being called an ultrapotent, second-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate will receive up to $173.4 million to conduct phase 3 clinical trials. The vaccine was developed in partnership between the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design and SK bioscience, which is based in South Korea.

The vaccine, called GPB510, employs a nanoparticle technology that was created at the UW institute. The vaccine uses a nanoparticle scaffolding that is studded with 60 copies of a key region of the virus’ spike protein. The design mimics the shape of the coronavirus. In preclinical research published in the leading scientific journals Cell and Nature, the vaccine triggered powerful and lasting immune responses.

The researchers were working to develop a vaccine that is safe and effective at low doses, easy to manufacture, and stable without requiring storage at super low temperatures.

UW associate professor Neil King, who was a recent finalist for the 2021 GeekWire Awards’ Innovation of the Year, led the research in Seattle.

SK bioscience will conduct the multinational clinical trials. The newly announced funding comes from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI. The money will help pay for the clinical trials as well as scaling up vaccine manufacturing by SK bioscience, with the goal of annually producing hundreds of millions of doses. The funds will also support research into new coronavirus variants of concern.

SK bioscience previously received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CEPI, which is a global partnership supporting vaccine development to fight pandemics. CEPI is also a co-leader of COVAX, an international effort working to equitably distribute COVID vaccines around the world. If GPB510 passes muster, it will be made available to COVAX for distribution.

King, a biochemist, is also co-founder and chair of the scientific advisory board for UW-spinout Icosavax. The Seattle startup is working on vaccines for COVID, as well as less common diseases, using the nanoparticle technology invented by King.

Other lead investigators in developing GPB510 are UW researchers Alexandra Walls, Brooke Fiala and David Veesler, in addition to numerous collaborators.

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