The military’s own vaccine that could combat COVID variants is starting clinical trials

A unique vaccine produced by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research began clinical testing Tuesday, and military researchers hope it will fight variants of SARS-COV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The vaccine, called spike ferritin nanoparticle, or SpFN, could also help fight other coronaviruses, a group of related RNA viruses that often cause respiratory-related diseases in mammals.

According to Kayvon Modjarrad, director of emerging infectious diseases at Walter Reed, military researchers have been monitoring the threat of new coronaviruses even before the pandemic. This threat has gained momentum in recent years.

“That’s why we need a vaccine like this: one that has the potential to broadly and proactively protect against multiple coronavirus types and strains,” Modjarrad said in a statement announcing the SpFN test.

The Department of Defense has had more than 271,000 COVID-19 cases in total. Of these, 3,814 people were hospitalized and 332 people died. Twenty-four of the dead were military personnel and 11 were dependents.

Vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna are approved under an emergency use license by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are available to troops.

The Pentagon has made vaccination a preparedness issue so that military operations can return to pre-pandemic standards. While there was some effort lobbying the troops to take the voluntary vaccine early on, vaccination rates seem to be on the rise in recent weeks.

“The more people are vaccinated as soon as possible, the level of virus transmission decreases, making it less likely to continue to mutate,” said Dr. Steven Cersovsky, deputy director of the Army Public Health Center, in late February.

New variants of COVID-19 have surfaced in South Africa and the United Kingdom. But military medical personnel are hopeful that current vaccines can combat those new strains. But when there are issues, Walter Reed’s vaccine may come at the right time.

Commando Sgt.  Maj.  Alex Kupratty of 4th Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, receives his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on January 6 at the Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base in Alaska.  (Maj. Jason Welch / Army)

“We designed and positioned this platform as the next generation vaccine, one that paves the way for a universal vaccine that will not only protect against the current virus, but also against future variants, stopping them before they become a new pandemic. can cause. ”said Modjarrad.

Preclinical studies indicated that SpFN induces very strong antibody responses in patients, inhibiting the virus causing COVID-19 infection, as well as three major SARS-CoV-2 variants and the SARS-CoV-1 virus.

The Phase 1 study is being conducted at Walter Reed’s Clinical Trials Center and will enroll 72 healthy adult volunteers aged 18-55. Participants are randomly placed in placebo or experimental groups.

The SpFN clinical trial is sponsored by the US Army Medical Research and Development Command.

The vaccine was developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research with support from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.