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Cambridge start-up searches for next Covid jab in animal faeces

DIOSynVax, a UK start-up founded by a vet-turned-vaccinator, hopes genetic sequences of viruses discovered in animal faeces will provide important clues for developing a vaccine to protect future ones prevent pandemics.

The Cambridge University spin-off is working on two vaccines that it believes will survive the current crop of Covid-19 vaccines, including the one developed by researchers at rival University of Oxford.

Jonathan Heeney, who first became interested in coronaviruses when he diagnosed them in cats and cheetahs during his studies, said scientists are learning about it future threats from the guano-covered floors of bat caves and waste from other animals, including civets and pangolins.

“If we look at animals, we’re in a better position to protect ourselves from the next pandemic or virus that’s likely to cause disease,” he said.

He said DIOSynVax uses the genomic sequences of coronaviruses in all species to identify their “Achilles heel”. The scientists use computational biology tools to pinpoint regions of the virus that cannot mutate without killing itself.

Instead of the current strategy of developing vaccines as soon as the new pathogen is detected in a human outbreak, the company can take a more targeted approach those Achilles heelswhich will still be present in future outbreaks.

“If you look at people, you see a herd of horses that have already escaped from the stable,” he said. “With animals, we have a better chance of seeing what’s likely to jump over the fence to build a vaccine.”

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has invested up to $42 million in DIOSynVax, which is one of several teams supporting the search for a vaccine that could defeat future variants of Sars-Cov-2 and all future Sars-family viruses and Mers, known as betacoronaviruses. Other grant recipients include Japan’s NEC Corporation and a consortium supported by the Indian government.

CEPI, one of the partners behind Covax, is raising billions of dollars to fund his plan to minimize the time from discovery of a potential pandemic agent to an effective vaccine 100 days.

DIOSynVax plans to use mRNA technology to develop the vaccine following its success for BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. It is working with German biotech company Ethris to make the vaccine.

The company already has a Covid-19 vaccine in early clinical trials that it believes can fight variants better than vaccines based on the variant discovered in Wuhan in late 2019. Heeney said it protected against Sars-Cov-2 and “all cousins,” including variants and the original Sars virus.

But delays in raising money meant it didn’t start its Phase 1 trial until late last year. Innovate UK provided researchers with £1.9million in late summer 2020, which Heeney said was a “drop in the bucket” compared to the funding given to researchers at Oxford and Imperial.

“It took a long time to get funded because everyone wanted speed,” he said. Now that the UK has vaccines, Heeney added that the government isn’t as motivated to fund later studies.

Heeney said CEPI fills a “really critical niche” in anticipating future pandemics while national governments focus on other issues, from war to climate change. With the funding, DIOSynVax is starting a “great adventure”, meaning “in five or ten years we won’t be facing this problem anymore”.

Cambridge start-up searches for next Covid jab in animal faeces Source link Cambridge start-up searches for next Covid jab in animal faeces

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