UAB Teams With Biotech Firm To Test Potential COVID-19 Vaccine

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is collaborating with biopharm company Altimmune for preclinical testing of a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19 disease.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is launching a collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Altimmune for preclinical testing of a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19 disease. The testing at UAB will investigate immune responses to the vaccine in mice — a key step before Altimmune can launch a Phase 1 human trial in patients in the fall of this year. The COVID-19 vaccine, called AdCOVID, is a single-dose vaccine candidate delivered by a nasal spray.

COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Frances E. Lund chairs the UAB Department of Microbiology. (Photo: Alabama Department of Commerce)

Gaithersburg, MD-based Altimmune has significant experience in the development of intranasal vaccine candidates for respiratory pathogens, including a seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccine and a vaccine for inhalation anthrax.

“We are eager to collaborate with Altimmune on this important project,” said Frances E. Lund, who chairs the UAB Department of Microbiology. “The expertise and infrastructure at UAB will be invaluable to the rapid progression of this vaccine into clinical studies.”

Targeting Coronavirus

The Altimmune collaboration is not the only UAB initiative that is taking aim at COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. More than 740,000 cases have been confirmed around the world, including over 144,000 in the U.S., as of this morning.

Last week, UAB announced that it will take part in an NIH-sponsored global clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of novel therapeutic agents in hospitalized adult patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Remdesivir – a drug developed with the help of the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center at UAB, will be the first agent evaluated in the trial.

Other bioscience organizations are also involved in the broad-based effort against COVID-19.

Southern Research, for example, this month announced a partnership with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Southern Research, which has considerable experience in infectious disease research, has long been a leader in the evaluation of vaccine candidates and possible therapeutics for emerging biological threats.

Last week, Huntsville-based iCubate Inc. announced that it will soon make available a diagnostic test that will run on the company’s FDA-cleared, fully automated, random access system for the rapid detection of infectious pathogens. The system can be placed in laboratories, hospitals and at temporary collection sites, testing stations and other point of care sites to expand testing availability, according to iCubate.

Urgent Collaboration

There are currently no vaccines to protect against COVID-19, which may cause serious complications and death. UAB said six of its labs will work together on what it called a “urgent collaboration” with Altimmune.

Altimmune“This project will be our highest priority for the group in the next few months as the goal is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so that they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people,” Lund said.

Dr. Vipin K. Garg, president and CEO of Altimmune, said it’s critical that the biotechnology industry and academic institutions work together to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Garg called UAB “an ideal partner” for this collaboration.

“UAB has an impressive track record of cutting-edge research in virology and immunology, as well as in the clinical development of vaccines,”  he said. “In fact, Altimmune was founded through a technology license from UAB in 1997.

“We are excited to collaborate with UAB in our efforts, and we look forward to addressing this crisis together.”

UAB also has extensive experience in conducting clinical studies of vaccines and has participated in studies sponsored by the Vaccine Evaluation and Trial Unit, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

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