Coronavirus/COVID-19 Vaccine Insights from Altimmune’s Leadership Team

Coronavirus/COVID-19 continues to radically change daily life across the U.S. Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order on March 15th ordering the closure of restaurants (take out only), bars, theaters, and fitness centers until further notice from the state. The CDC also changed its guidelines for gatherings from no more than 50 people down to a maximum of 10 people, reflecting a tightening of restrictions to deal with a rapidly evolving crisis. 

March 16th was the worst day for the stock market since Black Monday in 1987 and California has issued a “shelter-in-place” order for some 7M of its residents.

As of the writing of this post, there are 4,661 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. with 85 confirmed fatalities. The first U.S. death in Washington state occurred on February 29th, just a few weeks ago. With testing kits set to be more widely available to testing companies like Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp and other medical professionals, confirmed cases are likely to jump in the near future as more people get tested and undetected COVID-19 cases get identified.

As the U.S. moves into a critical period in its fight against COVID-19, BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) life science companies, like Novavax, Emergent Biosolutions, Altimmune and others are racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

We recently wrote about the new COVID-19 vaccine partnership between Emergent Biosolutions and Novavax and how Gaithersburg’s Altimmune was the second Maryland biotech to announce progress on a coronavirus vaccine.

Both announcements were welcome news to an anxious public searching for answers.

In an effort to keep the public informed about COVID-19 vaccine progress, Biobuzz recently connected with Dr. Scot Roberts, Chief Scientific Officer at Altimmune and the company’s President and CEO Dr. Vipin Garg about their potential COVID-19 vaccine to gather insights about the company’s rapid response to the crisis, the coronavirus vaccine candidate’s potential and next steps needed to deploy the treatment. 

Altimmune obtained the SARS-CoV-2 digital sequence in late January and from there the company took rapid and decisive action.

Scot Roberts, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer

“When the digital sequence was made available…we began development by inserting the SARS-CoV-2 antigen gene into our adenoviral genome to produce the vaccine vector. It took us four weeks to design and synthesize the COVID-19 vaccine,” stated Roberts.

Altimmune’s potential new COVID-19 vaccine is being developed using the same technology that was deployed to create NasoVAX™, Altimmune’s recombinant intranasal vaccine for influenza. NasoVAX, according to Altimmune’s recent press release, has shown “…the ability of intranasal vaccine delivery to stimulate a durable and broad immune response against the influenza virus.” The company believes that a COVID-19 vaccine delivered intranasally provides a more direct immune response to the likely point of the initial viral attack. COVID-19 and influenza share some similar traits that make Altimmune’s intranasal approach a strong match to potentially treat the novel coronavirus.

Roberts stated, “COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is spread primarily through the respiratory droplets produced by an infected person’s cough or sneeze. In that way, it is very similar to the influenza virus, and we have already completed a Phase 2 clinical trial with NasoVAX, our intranasal influenza vaccine candidate.”

“This trial showed that NasoVAX was very well-tolerated and activated a broad immune response, including antibody, cellular immunity, and mucosal immunity. We believe that mucosal immunity may be particularly important against respiratory viruses as it is the first line of defense with the potential to neutralize the virus at the point of entry. Mucosal immunity in the nasal cavity is strongly stimulated by our intranasal vaccine,” he added.

Roberts and the Altimmune team expect to have the necessary material to start animal testing of their potential COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March with the target of executing a Phase I study in August.

What makes Altimmune’s novel coronavirus vaccine unique among other COVID-19 vaccine candidates is that it is designed to stimulate immunity after a single dose.

“This is not true of all the candidate vaccines for COVID-19 and could be critically important in the context of mass vaccinations that may be necessary with COVID-19,” stated Roberts.

“Any vaccine that effectively addresses this disease should meet some basic criteria in addition to providing immunity. It should: 1) Be easily manufactured at multiple facilities for large scale production; 2) Be stable and allow for easy distribution around the world, and 3) Be easily administered. Our platform technology meets all the above criteria owing to its simple manufacturing process, excellent stability and the potential for greatly simplified dosing using the intranasal route. Based on these immunogenic and logistical characteristics, we believe that our intranasal vaccine technology is ideally suited for the prevention of COVID-19 disease,” he added.

For Altimmune’s CEO Dr. Garg, Altimmune’s COVID-19 vaccine development efforts are part of a collective collaboration across industries and agencies to fight the novel coronavirus. This is about much more than business to Garg and the Altimmune team.

Vipin K. Garg, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer

“We are growing increasingly concerned each day as we read the news of additional cases of COVID-19 and its significant impact on how the world’s citizens work and live,” stated Garg.

“We see our development efforts as our contribution to the greater public health, and any response should be in close coordination with governmental agencies, NGOs, and other key stakeholders. We are encouraged by the $8.3 billion Emergency Spending Bill for COVID-19 and believe this will help the response to COVID-19 on the scale necessary to control this disease,” he added.

For the latest information on coronavirus/COVID-19 preventative measures and updates, we encourage our readers to visit the following online resources and avoid gathering information via social media:

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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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