HONG KONG – Singapore-based Proteona Pte. Ltd. has started a partnership to characterize the clinical response to a new COVID-19 vaccine, with clinical trials soon to start at Flinders Medical Centre testing the candidate developed in collaboration with Adelaide, Australia-based Vaxine Pty Ltd.
The vaccine is currently undergoing animal testing in the U.S., before proceeding to human trials.
“Years of work on vaccines have taught me that there are a lot of potential pitfalls in developing an effective vaccine,” said Nikolai Petrovsky, the director of endocrinology at Flinders Medical Centre and research director at Vaxine. “It is critical now as we speed through vaccine development for preventing COVID-19 that we gain a deep understanding of how each vaccine is working.”
He said the study is intended to measure the body’s response “as deeply as possible” to understand how the entire immune system is reacting and use those data to guide decision making about the vaccine’s efficacy. Consequently, Petrovsky and team intend to tap Proteona’s Escape platform to profile the immune response from individual cells, obtaining data on thousands of genes and proteins from each cell within a sample.
Vaccination triggers different responses in different cell types and subpopulations, even before the efficacy against the virus can be tested. “The Escape platform enables vaccine developers to identify and capture events that take place in specific subpopulations of cells which can have implications on vaccine efficacy or safety,” Andreas Schmidt, CEO of Proteona, told BioWorld.
Proteona’s Escape is a single-cell proteogenomics analysis platform designed for immune profiling. It is able to measure both protein and gene expression from the same single cells. The protein information helps to accurately determine the cell type, while the gene expression provides rich information on cell state and function.
“Using the Escape platform, we can zoom in on immune cell subpopulations and find out if there is any activation, cell expansion or overstimulation in response to the vaccine,” said Schmidt. “And by maximizing data collection per sample, the platform also helps vaccine developers to fully make use of limited time and resources.”
The data from ESCAPE analysis can be used to adjust vaccine design or candidate selection in a timely manner.
In vaccine development, it is not just about doing it fast but doing it right. By fully understanding the body's response to a new vaccine candidate, Proteona claims researchers can avoid later pitfalls and focus on the best candidates.
“What we believe will be even more valuable is to build a database mapping different antigens and vaccine technologies to single cell immune response data,” Schmidt explained. “Using artificial intelligence analysis tools, we can identify which vaccines are producing the best outcomes, which need different doses or antigens.”
The selection by researchers and governments of a less-than-optimal vaccine from the ones available may end up costing billions of dollars and countless lives.
“When you have to get something right the first time, you need to collect the most information possible to make your decisions,” said Schmidt.
However, Proteona was unable to give a specific timeline for when the partnership with Flinders Medical Centre will kick off. “The analysis will start as soon as possible. We are not yet allowed to say when the trial will start, but it’s a very short time frame,” said Schmidt.
“Nikolai is an experienced vaccine developer and we are lucky to have done some work together in the past, so it is easy for us to start performing our part as soon as they dose the first patient,” he said of working with Petrovsky and the team at Vaxine.
Proteona is also in discussions with other vaccine developers to generate a common platform for data analysis across different SARS-CoV-2 vaccination programs.
In March, it launched an international alliance to develop broadly neutralizing antibodies against coronaviruses.
Other partners in the alliance are university hospitals treating COVID-19 patients and leading companies, including the Heidelberg University Hospital, Tübingen University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute, NUS Enterprise, U.S.-based 10x Genomics and NovogeneAIT.
“Besides providing support to companies working on COVID-19 solutions, Proteona is using its ESCAPE platform for accelerated antibody discovery with renowned international partners,” said Schmidt.
“Our current panels cover immuno-oncology, CAR T, blood cancers and tumor infiltrating lymphocytes,” he added. “We work closely with clinicians to apply our platform for multiple myeloma and have a few other cancer types in the works.”