Coronavirus vaccine to be developed from digital DNA sequencing

A Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical company is helping to fast-track a vaccine to help quell the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Backed by a fresh $9 million grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which receives money from public and private funding, Inovio Pharmaceuticals will begin developing the vaccine along with University of Pennsylvania-based research facility, the Wistar Institute, to ensure that it is available within the next few months.

Officials for Inovio said that they already have developed a sequence to produce the vaccine through new technology that involves digital mapping of DNA sequences.

“Now that the Chinese government posted what’s called the genetic sequence of the vaccine up on the Internet on January 11, we had created a vaccine from that sequence that was publicly available to researchers and others by January 12,” Jeff Richardson, a spokesperson for Inovio, told Fox News. “So in a day, we created a [vaccine sequence] from that front. From what the Chinese government put up, which is something they don’t normally do.”

The tech was created by Inovio and has been used to develop past vaccines. The company is known for getting a Zika virus vaccine to market in seven months back in 2016. Inovio believes that they can get one out for the coronavirus in less time.

“We hold the WHO (World Health Organization) record for producing a vaccine from bench to people for the Zika virus outbreak in 2015. And that was seven months from the bench, from first getting a sequence to putting it in people with seven months,” Richardson said. “We think we can beat that in this because of our experience with the MERS vaccine and with what we did with Zika.”

Inovio recently received the grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations for the express purpose of speeding up the process of getting vaccines to market. The process is often tedious as researchers often have to start from scratch when there’s a new outbreak. But with the DNA mapping technology and a vaccine already in existence for a previous strain of coronavirus, most of the heavy lifting usually associated with vaccine development has already been completed.

“Everything we’re doing right now is predictive,” Dr. David Weiner, of the Wistar Institute, and one of the lead researchers working on the coronavirus vaccine, told Fox News.  “[Our] lab is one of the groups that started the field of DNA vaccines. And in particular, we have advanced with an obvious synthetic DNA, which is the idea that you can rapidly make small pieces of it of DNA that would encode for part of a pathogen.”

Weiner and his team are one of three groups working on a vaccine, but theirs is the only one using a synthetic DNA approach. He believes that the first step in getting a vaccine ready to go what is often referred to as “central ground”—areas that see the largest concentration of infection.

“I think that that’s the first step,” Weiner said. “And it’s not that we need to get a vaccine that will prevent the outbreak similar to what we saw with Ebola. On to central ground where the virus is and start impacting the outbreak and shutting it down.”