Since a couple of months ago, signs have been posted outside of IVI’s biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) facility saying that COVID-19 pathogens are being analyzed in the negative pressure labs. Scientists in white lab coats bustle between labs busily engaged in COVID-19 projects.
“There were always new difficulties whenever we did a new project. But COVID-19 vaccine development is different in its nature,” says Dr. Sang-Hwan Seo, IVI’s Research Scientist & Lab Manager.
For this COVID-19 project, the role of IVI’s Science unit is analyzing SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody titer in clinical samples. Dr. Jae-ouk Kim, Head of Molecular Immunology at IVI, and her Clinical Immunology lab team will analyze SARS-CoV-2-specific binding antibodies while Dr. Sang-Hwan Seo and four BSL-3 researchers will analyze SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralizing antibodies.
“COVID-19 vaccine development is different from previous vaccine development in many ways,” says Dr. Seo. “First of all, the speed from DNA sequencing until clinical trials was unprecedented.” Phase 1 clinical trials started in the U.S. in only two months since the SARS-CoV-2 virus was sequenced—the fastest in the history of vaccine development.
“The variety of vaccine platforms utilized in the development of COVID-19 vaccine is also a key feature of COVID-19.” Just to name a few, DNA and mRNA vaccines, recombinant virus vectors, and recombinant protein designed based on antigen structure are some of the vaccine platforms, according to Dr. Seo.
Last but not least is global cooperation, which is always key for IVI. In this global pandemic, the initiative of global organizations in vaccine development proved to play a critical role. CEPI (Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) is leading in providing support to companies and research institutes to speed up processes. “CEPI, vaccine R&D institutes, and National Regulatory Authorities of each governments are all cooperating to develop a vaccine to fight against COVID-19,” emphasized Dr. Seo. He added his thoughts about how COVID-19 will become a game-changer: