ImmunityBio Inc., the U.S. company controlled by biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, is planning to conduct a trial for a second Covid-19 shot in South Africa.
The new vaccine will combine the use of both ribonucleic acid, or RNA, and deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, as well as the adenovirus used in a an inoculation that’s already being tested, Soon-Shiong said in an interview late last week.
ImmunityBio is already running local trials of an earlier dose, known as the hAd5 T-cell vaccine, and will test it as a booster for South African healthworkers who have received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
The new program’s co-ordinators “will likely start enrolling by mid-November, contingent on getting the necessary approvals” from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and the trial’s ethics committee, said Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who will be running the process.
While drugmakers around the world have produced billions of approved Covid-19 vaccines to roll out across the globe, many international pharma companies such as ImmunityBio have turned their attention to second-generation doses that could be used to fight future coronavirus variants and potentially deadly new waves.
South Africa has been the site of a number of trials already, carried out by Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax Inc. and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Madhi ran both the AstraZeneca and Novavax initiatives.
The new vaccine is expected to bolster the production of both antibodies and T Cells that kill virus-infected cells.
“We hope that this then solves the problem of high antibodies and durable immunity,” Soon-Shiong said, adding that the trial will initially encompass the first two phases of the three-stage path to approval for emergency or general use.
At a later stage, ImmunityBio may also run a trial of a so-called subunit protein Covid-19 vaccine, Soon-Shiong said. Subunit vaccines use fragments of viruses to stimulate an immune response.
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