Exclusive: Johns Hopkins professor and biotech colleagues tout new tech to test Covid-19 vaccine response
Variants to the SARS-CoV-2 virus have emerged of late as yet another threat to a pandemic that’s already killed over 2.2 million people worldwide.
The Covid-19 vaccines already on the market have so far managed to retain at least some level of efficacy in treating new, more infectious strains of the respiratory virus — but concern about other mutations remains palpable as a slow, churning vaccine rollout continues across the globe.
A new technology out of Johns Hopkins University, though, might help quickly and effectively test how any vaccine — whether approved for general usage or not — performs against SARS-CoV-2 or any possible variants.
Spearheaded by Johns Hopkins biological chemistry professor Stephen Gould, the new technology uses what’s called image-based serology to examine on a cellular level the spectrum of patient antibodies and other proteins humans make against pathogens, as well as the various signal strengths of those proteins.
In other words, researchers could in theory see how the antibodies of someone who’s received a Covid-19 vaccine will react to current or future variants of the virus, which will allow for quicker evaluation of vaccine efficacy and clearer knowledge of how to treat those variants should a vaccine not be effective.
Gould and Johns Hopkins have granted Capricor Therapeutics, a California-based biotech that specializes in exosome therapies, a non-exclusive license to use the technology in two of its Covid-19 vaccine candidates. Gould is on Capricor’s payroll, but both he and Capricor CEO Linda Marbán were bullish on other companies joining in on the technology down the line.
In an exclusive interview with Endpoints News, Gould said that technology for evaluating vaccine efficacy has been somewhat lacking, as point-of-care assays aren’t always equipped to show the full set of antibodies produced after inoculation.
“And so we’ve developed a technology that’s designed to capture the full array of antibodies,” Gould said. “And then can interrogate plasmas from control individuals, infected individuals, and vaccinated individuals to carefully quantify and characterize the immune responses, the antibody responses in those patients.”
The technology could play a key role going forward, Gould argued, allowing researchers to see whether a vaccine elicits antibodies not only against some forms of the spike proteins but against all forms.
Marbán said the Gould tech could be a “companion diagnostic” for the second-generation vaccine candidates Capricor has developed preclinically, using exosomes to deliver a multivalent mRNA based Covid-19 vaccine. The company hopes that the Johns Hopkins technology will help them engineer vaccines that produce broader and longer-lasting immunity to any and all variations of the virus.
“But now we also have this companion diagnostic to go along with it to power the technology forward,” Marbán said. “So we’re excited for things to come, and looking forward to getting a handle on this pandemic and future pandemics using tests such as this.”