The ‘next generation’ vaccines are being developed in SA
Durban - Two Covid-19 vaccines were being refined in the country with the potential to outsmart current and future variants – strengthening the fight against the pandemic.
Shantivax and had5, were considered to be the next-generation Covid-19 vaccines.
GENLAB, a Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) based immunotherapy company, and Danish biotechnology company, Immunitrack, were behind Shantivax – the first Covid-19 vaccine of African origin.
The had5 Covid-19 vaccine was designed by Immunitybio Inc, an immunotherapy company from California with a lineage in cancer treatments, along with researchers from the University of Cape Town.
Most of the current Covid-19 vaccines trigger an immune response resulting in antibodies but both the Shantivax and had5 vaccines aim to additionally elicit a T-cell immune response.
A T-cell response is meant to destroy the virus.
Professor Barry Schoub, virologist and chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 vaccines, explained that the immune system had two branches.
“There is B-cell immunity which produces antibodies and T-cell immunity which governs recovery from infection but also protection as it prevents the virus from multiplying in cells that get infected. The current concern is that variants can escape neutralising antibody responses so a joint B-cell and T-cell response create a wider net that can be cast over a wider range of current and future variants as the result of a multi-layered immune response. A supplementary T-cell booster could go part and parcel with current vaccines as a possible way forward.”
Immunitybio chief executive Patrick Soon-shiong said results had been promising and discussions were underway for their vaccine to be integrated into the Sisonke Programme that currently rolled out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Time is of the essence, at great personal expense we have given ourselves the manufacturing capacity to produce millions of these capsule supplements derived from our vaccine that trigger a T-cell response. They can be kept at room temperature, taken orally and transported with less hassle than current vaccines. In primate studies, those that received the boost showed transmission immunity in the nose and lungs plus the virus stopped growing. All we need is the go-ahead from the powers that be,” he said.
Soon-shiong was born in Gqeberha and said he made a personal promise to return to the country with resources and technology.
“I think the country’s scientists and the current infrastructure is some of the best and most sophisticated in the world, that is why I brought our vaccine to the country. I still consider myself a South African and believe we have the human capital but capacity needs to increase and that is where I want to help the nation grow.”
Professor Graeme Meintjes from the University of Cape Town along with his team oversaw the local branch of the had5 vaccine.
“We have been planning this clinical trial since July. They approached us to conduct clinical development of the vaccine in parallel with the US. There are 25 team members including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, counsellors, a community team and administrators who are led by myself as clinical research site leader and Amy Ward the principal trial investigator,” he said.
Meintjes said Cape Town’s Biovac Institute was collaborating on the trial and locally stored the test products but the long-term plan was that they would be involved in locally manufacturing.
Morena Makhoana, chief executive of the Biovac Institute, confirmed active discussions were had with global pharmaceutical companies regarding local manufacturing and production of Covid-19 vaccines but was unable to disclose the nature of these discussions.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority’s (SAHPRA) Yuven Gounden said an application to conduct clinical trials for the had5 T-cell vaccine was received in the last quarter of 2020 and approval was granted on January 12.
Kamsellin Chetty, chief executive of GENLAB, said Shantivax was still in the preclinical testing phase.
“Simply put we are in pre-human testing. SAHPRA only checks clinical or human testing but we submit our scientific data for approval and follow strict ethical scientific guidelines to ensure efficacy and maximum safety. We are a next-generation vaccine which means we have learnt from the mistakes of others and evolved to be better. We adapted to mitigate the emergence of variants,” he said.