Gates, Open Philanthropy award $16.5 million for COVID-19 vaccine

Gates, Open Philanthropy award $16.5 million for COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine developer Icosavax has announced grants totaling $16.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Philanthropy in support of its COVID-19 vaccine program.

A $10 million grant from the Gates Foundation will support a Phase 1 clinical trial of the the Seattle-based company's COVID vaccine candidate in young and older adults; the trial, which is expected to get under way in mid-2021, is the first such trial to involve human participants. In addition, a $6.5 million grant from Open Philanthropy will support development of the company's vaccine platform. 

Developed by scientists at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the company's lead vaccine candidate for COVID-19, IVX-411, is a self-assembling protein nanoparticle that displays sixty copies of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in a highly immunogenic array. Preclinical data show that IVX-411 induces high-neutralizing antibodies in mice after a single administration and further improvement after a second administration, and that antibody levels after the second administration were ten-fold higher than those seen with the soluble SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that forms the basis of many other vaccine candidates. The data also show a strong B-cell response after immunization, which is critical for immune memory and a durable vaccine effect. 

"This is truly a great example of the scientific community coming together in a time of exceptional need to fight this pandemic," said Icosavax CEO Adam Simpson. "We are grateful to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Philanthropy for their financial support and to Amgen for the supply of a key intermediate for manufacturing. The team at Icosavax is dedicated to advancing vaccines against severe life-threatening respiratory diseases to protect our most at-risk populations. Because VLP [virus-like particle] vaccines have the potential to induce high-neutralizing antibody titers, our COVID-19 VLP vaccine candidate could be especially important for older adults with age-related declines in immunity." 

(Image credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via Rawpixel)