Mark and Glenn Turchan are early investors in Refana, a company on the leading-edge of vaccine technology
SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has continued to evolve at a rapid pace in the last two years, leading to the emergence of new, tougher variants and a surge in breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated and boosted people around the world.
As a result, there is a pressing need to develop new, safe, cost-effective vaccines that provide broader coverage and are accessible to people everywhere.
Fortunately, that is entirely possible thanks to trailblazing startup Refana, which has a strong connection to the engineering faculty, dating back to the 1980s.
A private corporation that researches practical solutions for complex and urgent global medical problems, Refana has designed a leading-edge vaccine technology called RefanaVax-MV that uses a Whole Inactivated Virus (WIV)-based approach to create a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
Two graduates of Waterloo Engineering Mark Turchan (BASc '83, systems design engineering, MASc '85, systems design engineering) and his brother Glenn Turchan (BASc' 87, geological engineering, MASc '90, civil engineering) are early investors in the company.
Born and raised in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, they are actively involved in shaping the US-based company's future, with Mark serving as the acting chief operating officer and Glenn using his vast consulting experience to act as an advisor to the firm's management team.
“Our investment is part of what University of Waterloo's Faculty of Engineering built into our problem-solving DNA,” says Mark.
“It is all about solving big problems that can have a tremendous positive impact on the world while getting rewarded for doing so,” Glenn adds.
RefanaVax-MV is described as an easy-to-adjust multi-valent “vaccine cocktail.”
Unlike previous mono-valent vaccines already in use to protect against a single variant of the virus, multi-valent vaccines will protect against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants at the same time.
RefanaVax-MV is designed as a tri-valent vaccine, therefore protecting against three variants. For example, Delta and Omicron, as well as the next dangerous variant to emerge.
Following a proven scientific development approach, the WIV vaccine is derived from a chemically-neutralized version of the whole virus (non-active or contagious) covering its full genetic structure, to provide better coverage overall.
It has other important advantages as well, including lower costs and easier distribution. WIV designs are also safe; they are based on long-standing successful vaccine design solutions in use for decades across multiple diseases.
In addition, Refana has designed a modular manufacturing system that uses automated bioreactor technologies, allowing for less expensive capital investment and lower operating costs, even for production batches as small as 40 million doses per year.
That makes localized manufacturing - especially in less-developed countries - more feasible, making vaccine technology more accessible to many parts of the world that do not have access to it. It also reduces the developing world's reliance on larger biotechnology companies and their large batch production facilities that are situated primarily in the developed world.
The RefanaVax-MV vaccine was developed in 2021-22 in co-operation with the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (ITTRI) in Chicago. The work was recently presented at the American Society for Virology (ASV) Conference.
Refana, which takes its name from a Hebrew term that translates to ‘please heal’ in English, also continues this work with a further quest to develop a single, pan-coronavirus vaccine - also known as a ‘universal vaccine’ - using computational genomics and artificial intelligence. This is a ‘next-gen’ vaccine solution.
“What we are doing is incredibly important, given that there are still over three billion people in the world who are not fully-vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2,” says Mark. “The vaccine technology platforms being developed by Refana would be useful in fighting SARS-Cov-2, and possibly future virus pandemics, according to the virology community of experts.”
“We are two brothers with two sets of engineering degrees who had two separate careers, coming together to help the world get back to normal and hopefully be a better place,” says Glenn.
Could a Universal Coronavirus Vaccine be the Silver Bullet that ends this pandemic - and the next?Read Now
BY ERIN PRATER
First-generation vaccines were not the panacea hoped for in COVID-19’s early days. Nor did herd immunity swoop in and save the day.
Could a so-called “pan-coronavirus” vaccine be the long-awaited silver bullet that ends the COVID pandemic—and the next one, too?
Answer: It’s complicated.
“The term pan-coronavirus vaccine needs an asterisk next to it,” Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine, told Fortune.
Such a vaccine could tackle all coronaviruses, named for their crown-like appearance under a microscope. Or it could focus on COVID-19 and its myriad variants. Or it could tackle the four longstanding coronaviruses that circulate as common colds—or any combination thereof.
Read the full article.
World complacent on Covid, warns former UK prime minister Gordon BrownRead Now
By Naomi Grimley
Gordon Brown has warned that the world risks "sleepwalking" into another Covid variant crisis if it does not increase vaccinations in low-income countries.
Wealthier countries needed to share the cost of global vaccinations, tests and treatments, he told the BBC.
Speaking before an international Covid summit on Thursday, the former UK prime minister said the world had become "complacent" about the virus.
US President Joe Biden is due to host the virtual summit at the White House.
He does so at a time when Congress has failed to approve key funds earmarked for the global pandemic response.
Campaigners fear that could mean other countries will not offer extra money either, leaving the push for better vaccine coverage around the world without momentum.
Mr Brown, who is a World Health Organization (WHO) ambassador on health finance, said the numbers were "shocking".
"Only 11% have been vaccinated in low-income countries and we set a target of 70%," he said.
"Tragically, we are sleepwalking into the next variant, and political leaders are still not listening to the medical advice that is still there - that we've got to increase vaccination, continue to test at a high level, and provide the new treatments available."
Read the full article here.
Population-wide study of COVID-19 vaccination shows that mix-and-match approach to booster vaccination offers the best protectionRead Now
A new study on Chile’s national COVID-19 vaccination program, to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022, Lisbon 23-26), and published in The Lancet Global Health, shows that giving a different type of vaccine (heterologous) for the third or ‘booster’ dose than was received for the first two doses, leads to better vaccine performance than using the same (homologous) inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for all three doses.
The study is by Dr Rafael Araos, Institute of Science and Innovation in Medicine, Clinica Alemana, Universidad del Desarrollo, Dr Alejandro Jara, and Dr Eduardo A Undurraga from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and colleagues including Dr Johanna Acevedo from the Chilean Ministry of Health.
The study assesses the effectiveness of CoronaVac (Sinovac Biotech), AZD1222 (Oxford-AstraZeneca), or BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine boosters in individuals who had completed a primary two-dose immunisation schedule with CoronaVac, an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine which accounts for about half the COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered globally, compared with no vaccination. The study assessed the nationwide vaccination program in Chile, where the two-dose Coronavac schedule was by far the most commonly given.
Individuals administered vaccines from Feb 2, 2021 to the prespecified trial end date of Nov 10, 2021 were evaluated; the team excluded individuals with a probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection (RT-PCR or antigen test) on or before Feb 2, 2021, and individuals who had received at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine before Feb 2, 2021. They estimated the vaccine effectiveness of booster doses against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 (symptomatic COVID-19) cases and COVID-19 outcomes (hospitalisation, admission to the intensive care unit [ICU], and death).
A total of 11 174 257 individuals were eligible for this study, among whom 4 127 546 completed a primary immunisation schedule (two doses) with CoronaVac and received a booster dose during the study period. 1 921 340 (46·5%) participants received a heterologous AZD1222 booster, 2 019 260 (48·9%) received a heterologous BNT162b2 booster, and 186 946 (4·5%) received a homologous booster with CoronaVac.
The authors calculated an adjusted vaccine effectiveness (using statistical modelling) in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 of 79% for a two-dose schedule plus CoronaVac booster, 97% for a BNT162b2 booster, and 93% for an AZD1222 booster. The adjusted vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19-related hospitalisation, ICU admission, and death was 86%, 92%, and 87% for a CoronaVac booster, 96%, 96%, and 97% for a Pfizer-BioNTech booster, and 98%, 99% and 98% for an Astra Zeneca booster.
Read the full article here.
Experts assumed China needed an mRNA COVID vaccine to reopen safely. New data suggest that may not be the caseRead Now
China’s inactivated Sinovac COVID vaccine may provide as much protection from death as Germany’s BioNTech mRNA jab after three doses, according to new research from Hong Kong University. The findings suggest that China, which continues to impose tough COVID-zero policies, may not need to approve or develop mRNA vaccines to emerge from the pandemic.
Hong Kong Free Press announced:
During the press conference, HKU’s medical faculty released its latest empirical analysis of the effectiveness of the two available vaccines – the Chinese-made Sinovac and German-produced BioNTech – based on data of hospitalised patients in Hong Kong as of March 8.
According to their findings, receiving three jabs of a Covid-19 vaccine, irrespective of the brand, can provide around 98 per cent of immunity against severe or fatal cases in patients aged 60 or above.
SARS-CoV-2 spike T cell responses induced upon vaccination or infection remain robust against OmicronRead Now
The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant has multiple Spike (S) protein mutations that contribute to escape from the neutralizing antibody responses, and reducing vaccine protection from infection. The extent to which other components of the adaptive response such as T cells may still target Omicron and contribute to protection from severe outcomes is unknown. We assessed the ability of T cells to react with Omicron spike in participants who were vaccinated with Ad26.CoV2.S or BNT162b2, and in unvaccinated convalescent COVID-19 patients (n = 70).
We found that 70-80% of the CD4 and CD8 T cell response to spike was maintained across study groups. Moreover, the magnitude of Omicron cross-reactive T cells was similar to that of the Beta and Delta variants, despite Omicron harbouring considerably more mutations. Additionally, in Omicron-infected hospitalized patients (n = 19), there were comparable T cell responses to ancestral spike, nucleocapsid and membrane proteins to those found in patients hospitalized in previous waves dominated by the ancestral, Beta or Delta variants (n = 49).
These results demonstrate that despite Omicron’s extensive mutations and reduced susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies, the majority of T cell response, induced by vaccination or natural infection, cross-recognises the variant. Well-preserved T cell immunity to Omicron is likely to contribute to protection from severe COVID-19, supporting early clinical observations from South Africa.
Read the full paper here.
By ETHAN ENNALS FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
Experts told The Mail on Sunday that there is one jab ready to go that might already be highly effective against this version of the virus: the one developed by French firm Valneva and ordered by the UK Government – but then cancelled.
It could have an advantage over current jabs because the way it’s been made differs.
It contains what is known as a fully inactivated virus – a whole Covid virus that has been neutralised.
Though it can’t cause illness, the immune system reacts by recognising the threat and creating antibodies and other fighter cells, enabling the body to fight off the real virus if it becomes infected.
Other shots such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca use genetic fragments from one part of the Covid virus, called the spike protein – the section that allows it to bind with healthy cells.
It is this part that’s prone to mutations: the 32 mutations seen in the Botswana variant are all found on the spike protein, which increases the chances that the antibodies developed in response to the above vaccines may not ‘recognise’ it, allowing the virus to slip past.
Since the Valneva jab has more parts of the virus for the immune system to learn from, experts believe it could be more ‘variant-proof’ than the others.
Professor Adam Finn, paediatrician and member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the Government’s advisory group, says there is a ‘strong theoretical argument’ that the Valneva jab could provide protection against the Botswana variant.
‘This is potentially a more resilient vaccine,’ he said.
‘Obviously we’d need to look at how it reacts to this particular variant but I think there’s a strong argument for doing that right now.’
Trial results published last month found two doses of Valneva were 95 per cent effective at preventing infection. The trial of 4,000 participants also reported no cases of severe illness.
Read the full article
Private clinics in Singapore seeing demand for Sinovac and Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines as booster shotsRead Now
SINGAPORE: Several private clinics here have been seeing a demand for Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines as booster shots, owing largely to a fear of side effects from the third dose of an mRNA jab.
Vaccines like Sinovac and Sinopharm use inactivated viral particles to teach one's immune system to make antibodies.
So far, it has been recommended that those aged 50 and above take an additional mRNA shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at least six months after their two-dose vaccine regimen, to ensure a high level of protection from severe disease is maintained across a longer period.
The Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination is still studying the possibility of mixing vaccines for the booster dose.
Dr Chua Guan Kiat, a general practitioner at Chua Medical Clinic and Surgery in Bukit Batok, told The Straits Times that there has so far been a "sizeable demand" for Sinovac and Sinopharm as vaccine boosters, the bulk of which comes from the elderly who had been fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine.
Since his clinic started offering Sinovac jabs on Sept 23, Dr Chua said that 20 to 30 doses of booster vaccine are being administered each day, with demand likely to rise steadily now that those over 50 have also been invited to take their booster doses.
He added that the fear of potential side effects from a third dose of the mRNA vaccine has been a major driving force to opt for an inactivated vaccine like Sinovac as a booster.
"Anecdotally, many who had one dose of the inactivated vaccine after receiving two doses of the mRNA had very good antibody results. No doubt, the best antibody results were still obtained with a third mRNA dose, but many didn't want to go through the same side effects again," he said.
One of his customers, Mr Ho, who is in his 60s, recently received his Sinopharm booster jab after two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Asked why he had opted for Sinopharm instead of an mRNA vaccine, Mr Ho said he felt the Sinopharm vaccine uses a tried-and-tested inactivated virus technology, whereas the mRNA technique was previously used to help stimulate antibody response in patients with late-stage cancers.
Mr Ho, who declined to give his full name and his occupation, said the long-term effects of mRNA still remain unknown.
He told ST that he experienced severe pain at his injection site after his second Pfizer dose but not after his Sinopharm booster.
Read the full article here.
Australia approves CoronaVac and Covishield and opens the way for the entry of thousands of vaccinated foreignersRead Now
CANBERRA — Australia has approved CoronaVac and Covishield vaccines, allowing travelers and foreign students immunized with them to enter the country. As the national immunization rate approaches 80% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose and 45.6% with both, Canberra will begin in November to eliminate one of the strictest border controls imposed in the world to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
CoronaVac, from the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, is one of the most used anti-Covid vaccines worldwide, with applications from Indonesia to Brazil and Turkey. CoviShield is the version of the vaccine from the University of Oxford and the AstraZeneca laboratory produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. Australia uses Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines in its campaign, so travelers who have taken these immunizations will also be free to enter the country.
The announcement, made on Friday, opens the door to thousands of foreign students who were excluded from Australia during the pandemic as, according to the main Australian drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Agency, the entry of immunized travelers into the country it will only be released to people who have received “nationally recognized vaccines”.
“Very soon, we can open international borders again,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “This will start to happen from next month.
Read the full article here.
Governments should consider offering another COVID vaccine specifically tailored to the Delta variant, according to a U.K. government advisor and Delta researcher.
The guidance comes after a new study indicated that the Delta variant was eight times less sensitive to the antibodies that vaccines provide to people compared to an earlier version of COVID from April 2020, in a lab environment.
This means it would take more antibodies from a vaccinated person to block Delta than to block this earlier version of the virus.
"We should seriously consider Delta-specific vaccines," said professor Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, member of the U.K. government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) virus advisory group, and lead author of the study. "The infectivity enhancement likely explains a lot of the vaccine breakthrough that we see."
Read the full article by Ed Browne here.