TAU partners with pharma company to develop COVID-19 vaccine

The epitope-based vaccine will target the most vulnerable part of the viral spike protein

Ramot, Tel Aviv University’s technology transfer company, and Neovii, a Swiss-based biopharmaceutical company and a member of Israel-based Neopharm Group, announced today that they have signed a research and license agreement to develop a novel and potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine. Neovii will work in close collaboration with a team of scientists led by Prof. Jonathan Gershoni of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology.

The agreement grants Neovii the exclusive right to develop and commercialize a novel and recently patented platform technology conceived by Prof. Gershoni for the rapid discovery of epitope-based vaccines. The collaboration is focused on the development of a first-in-class COVID-19 vaccine that reconstructs the coronavirus’s Receptor Binding Motif (RBM), a critical structure of its “spike” protein. The “spike” protein itself is the major surface protein that the virus uses to bind to the cellular receptor that acts as the doorway into the human cell. After the spike protein binds to the human cell receptor, the viral membrane fuses with the cell membrane, allowing the genome of the virus  to enter the cell and begin infection.

“We have been working on coronaviruses for the last 15 years developing a method of reconstructing and reconstituting the RBM structure of the spike protein in SARS-CoV and subsequently in MERS-CoV,” explains Prof. Gershoni. “The moment the genome of the new virus was published in early January 2020, we began the process of reconstituting the RBM of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and expect to have a reconstituted RBM of the new virus soon. This is the basis for the new vaccine, which could be ready for use within a year to a year and a half.”

Targeting the Achilles’ heel of coronavirus

“The smaller the target and the focus of the attack, the safer and greater the effectiveness of the vaccine,” he adds. “The virus takes far-reaching measures to hide its RBM from the human immune system, but the best way to ‘win the war’ is to develop a vaccine that specifically targets the virus’s RBM.” Keren Primor Cohen, Ramot CEO says: “We hope that through this collaboration with Neovii, it will be possible to produce an effective vaccine that targets the coronavirus’s Achilles’ heel and will accelerate the development of a protective vaccine against this global threat.”

Jürgen Pohle, Neovii CEO, adds: “The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how fragile and vulnerable our societies are in the face of a pandemic.  We are extremely excited about our collaboration with Professor Gershoni and TAU which provides Neovii with a first-in-class platform for the rapid development of promising vaccine candidates towards any future emerging pandemics including COVID-19. Furthermore, the COVID-19 vaccine is highly synergistic to Neovii’s core expertise in the development and manufacturing of passive polyclonal antibodies and provides an opportunity to bring a COVID-19 immunotherapy in a rapid manner.”

Neovii’s long-standing and well-established experience and capabilities in developing, manufacturing and commercializing biopharmaceuticals will support the objective to have a vaccine ready for use in the general population on an accelerated timeline.

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