Corona vaccine development at the DZIF
Scientists at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) have been working on a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. The special characteristic of this vaccine is, that the genetic information for a surface protein of SARS-CoV-2 is inserted into a modified and thus harmless “Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara” (MVA). The MVA vector has been researched for many years and has been successfully used in other vaccine projects. For this vaccine development, the DZIF worked together with the company IDT-Biologika in Dessau.
At the end of September 2020, the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) received approval from the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedical Drugs, and the Ethics Commission of the Hamburg Medical Association to start clinical trials. On October 9, the first subject was injected with the vaccine MVA-SARS-2-S against COVID-19. The results were available in January 2021: The vaccine proved to be safe, but the effect fell short of expectations. After a thorough investigation of the causes, the phase I trial has been continued with an optimised vaccine since July 2021. Initial assessments of the phase Ib study with the modified vector vaccine MVA-SARS-2-ST consistently show good antibody responses by the test subjects. Nevertheless, the current vaccine is not adapted to new virus variants and since there are already many established COVID-19 vaccines in registration, the development program for this vector vaccine is not being pursued at this time. However, promising other applications for the MVA platform are being pursued, such as the further development of a vaccine against the MERS virus.
Since the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 first appeared in China, the scientists and physicians at DZIF have been accompanying the development with their research work. Under the direction of Prof. Gerd Sutter, virologist at the LMU Munich, a so-called vector vaccine is being developed, based on the "Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara" (MVA) as a vector. MVA was developed at the LMU as a vaccine against smallpox over 30 years ago. MVA viruses are attenuated in such a way that they can be used as harmless vectors in other vaccines. They are not capable of reproduction, but the introduced gene information feigns an infection to the immune system and stimulates the production of antibodies and cellular immunity. This vector has already been successfully used at DZIF for the development of a vaccine against the MERS coronavirus, a close relative of SARS-CoV-2.
DZIF scientists at the LMU Munich, the Phillips-Universität in Marburg and the UKE Hamburg were able to start the development of a new vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 quickly after the outbreak of the corona epidemic, as they had the necessary basic knowledge with the development of a MERS vaccine. At the LMU Munich, Gerd Sutter's team created a stable MVA virus with a component of the corona virus. The company IDT-Biologika developed a cell line and a process that is the only way to produce a highly pure MVA vector vaccine on an industrial scale. The first vaccine doses were filled in July. The clinical was headed by Prof. Marylyn Addo (UKE Hamburg-Eppendorf) and conducted at the Clinical Trial Center North. In Marburg, Prof. Stephan Becker's team carried out immune monitoring - i.e. the characterisation of the antibody response to the vaccine. The clinical trials for testing have not yet been fully completed. Although interim phase Ib analyses showed good results, the development program has been discontinued. The current vaccine is not adapted to new virus variants and there are already many established COVID-19 vaccines in registration.
- LMU Munich (Gerd Sutter)
- Phillips-Universität in Marburg (Stephan Becker)
- UKE (Marylyn Addo) und CTC North (Saskia Borregaard)
- Medical Center of the LMU Munich (Michael Hölscher)
- University Hospital Tübingen (Peter Kremsner)
- IDT Biologika (Andreas Neubert)
FAQs - Frequently asked questions
What is a vector vaccine and which vector is used in the DZIF?
Vector vaccines are genetically modified (and therefore harmless) viruses that serve as vectors for inserting the genetic material of a pathogen into target cells – in this case SARS-CoV-2. The viral vector cannot multiply by itself, but the DNA sequence that is introduced – the component of the coronavirus – can imitate an infection and trigger the production of antibodies.
Under the direction of Prof. Gerd Sutter, who is a virologist at the LMU university in Munich, a vector vaccine based on the "Modified Vaccinia Ankara" virus (MVA) is being developed in the DZIF as a vector. This MVA virus was generated at the LMU as a vaccine against smallpox more than 30 years ago. This vector has already been used successfully at the DZIF for development of a vaccine against the MERS coronavirus. The components of the virus against which the human body is hoped to form antibodies are necessary for the effect of the vaccine. The scientists selected the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as the appropriate coronavirus component. This protein helps the virus to enter human cells. The corresponding gene sequence, i.e. the genetic blueprint of this protein, is then combined with the genetic information of the MVA vector. The genetic information for the surface protein of SARS-CoV-2 is incorporated into the MVA platform. The resulting vaccine virus then penetrates the cells as due to the vaccination and synthesises the spike protein, which is recognised by the immune system as "foreign" and thus stimulates the immune response. Specific antibodies and T-cells are formed against the spike protein, which should prevent later infection by the virus.
Contact person for in-depth press enquiries: Prof. Gerd Sutter
email to LMU's (Office of Communications & Media Relations
What is the current state of development of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine?
Although interim phase Ib analyses showed good results, the development program has been discontinued. The current vaccine is not adapted to new virus variants and there are already many established COVID-19 vaccines in registration.
Contact person for in-depth press enquiries: Prof. Marylyn Addo
email to the Press Office of the UKE Hamburg-Eppendorf