In his search for a suitable vaccine against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, Professor Förster relies on old friends. In cooperation with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), the co-speaker of RESIST is testing a promising vaccine based on a smallpox virus. The Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara (MVA) has been used as a vehicle since the early 1990s to introduce genetic material into body cells and trigger an immune reaction.

Now the scientists want to modify the smallpox vaccine with the building instructions for the so-called spike or S protein, which is located on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 and enables the infection of cells. Once vaccinated, the virus fragment is intended to stimulate the body’s own immune defense to produce protective antibodies against the new corona virus. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Art is supporting this project with 1.7 million euros.

“A genetically modified MVA has already been developed by my Munich colleague Professor Dr. Gerd Suttner against the related MERS virus and successfully tested on dromedaries,” explains Professor Förster, head of the MHH Institute of Immunology. “The animals were immune against the MERS virus after vaccination.” The fact that the vaccination is also effective in humans has just been confirmed in a further study. Currently the smallpox vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is to be used and initially tested on mice.

Vaccine is administered via the respiratory tract

The LMU also plans to test the new vaccination vector and vaccinates mice with the genetically modified MVA. But unlike in Munich, Professor Förster is trying out a new approach. He is administering the vaccine via the respiratory tract. “In our opinion, vaccination via inhalation has the advantage that a particularly strong immune response is triggered exactly where the virus strikes most aggressively – in the lungs,” says the immunologist.

If the vaccination is successful in animal experiments, MVA-SARS-CoV-2-S will also be tested on humans. Professor Förster’s team and clinical partners plan to carry out a clinical study with 30 participants. The goal is to investigate whether the vaccination actually leads to antibody production against the virus in humans. Additionally, a new test for detection of SARS-CoV-2 will be developed. This new test will not only detect antibodies against the virus, but also answer the question of how well these antibodies protect against re-infection. “This is important to identify all those people who have gone through an infection without symptoms and are now immune without knowing it.”

Contact: Professor Reinhold Förster, foerster.reinhold@mh-hannover.de, Phone: +49 511 532-9721.

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