TAU partners with biopharma to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Ramot, Tel Aviv University’s tech transfer company, and Neovii, a Swiss-based biopharma and a member of Israel’s Neopharm Group, 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,” says 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.”

Ramot CEO, Keren Primor Cohen, said: “The smaller the target and the focus of the attack, the safer and greater the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“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.

“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.”

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