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Trial to Test Electronic-Aided Covid-19 Vaccine

SARS-Cov-2 virus

Scanning electron microscope image of SARS-Cov-2 virus, responsible for Covid-19 infections (NIH.gov)

6 Apr. 2020. A company developing cancer immunotherapies is adapting its electronic-assisted process to create a vaccine protecting against Covid-19 infections. OncoSec Medical Inc. in San Diego and its partner Providence Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon are asking the Food and Drug Administration for clearance to test its vaccine for safety and immune response in a clinical trial.

OncoSec makes treatments for solid tumor cancers that harness the immune system, but also weaken the target tumor cells with electronic impulses to encourage a robust response. The company’s technology uses the cancer fighting capabilities of the interleukin 12, or IL-12, a natural protein in the body that fights off invading pathogens, but can also be directed at cancer. When used by itself as a therapy, however, interleukin 12 can cause serious unexpected adverse effects, often as a result of its promoting production of other proteins in the body.

OncoSec overcomes this problem by simultaneously aiming electroporation, or mild electronic pulses, at the tumor as DNA plasmids with genes producing IL-12 are injected into the tumor. These pulses, says the company, weaken the tumor cell membranes, making them less resistant to IL-12, allowing for smaller and safer amounts of the protein.

The company’s treatments are also designed to generate a systemic, or whole-body, response by “training” the patient’s T-cells in the immune system to recognize the cancer, wherever it may spread. OncoSec is testing its technology combined with other cancer drugs in clinical trials in patients with melanoma, triple-negative breast cancer, and head and neck cancer.

To prevent Covid-19 infections, OncoSec is adapting this technology into a vaccine to deliver IL-12 and a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The vaccine, called CorVax12, combines IL-12 with the SARS-CoV-2 S glycoprotein produced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, part of National Institutes of Health. OncoSec is licensing the S glycoprotein, also called the SARS-CoV-2 spike, from NIAID. OncoSec and Providence Cancer Institute believe the CorVax12 payload, delivered with electroporation, can produce a robust and extended immunity that protects against Covid-19 infections.

The clinical trial will be led by Providence Cancer Institute researchers. The trial is expected to enroll healthy volunteers to test the safety of CorVax12 , as well as its ability to produce an immune response. The study will also assess OncoSec’s Apollo device to deliver electroporation with a vaccine. OncoSec tested the Apollo device in anesthetized animals where electroporation was delivered into the lungs and liver, with no adverse effects reported. Providence Cancer Institute filed an investigational new drug application with FDA, in effect a request to conduct a clinical trial, of CorVax12.

“During a pandemic such as Covid-19,” says Christopher Twitty, OncoSec’s chief scientist in a company statement, “any opportunity to find a medical solution should be fully investigated.” Twitty adds, “We hope to make a meaningful impact on Covid-19 as well as gaining a deeper understanding of its associated immunobiology.”

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