Centre for Gene and Cellular Therapies in the Treatment of Cancer based in Timisoara starts testing vaccine for COVID-19

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OncoGen, the  first research centre in Romania and Eastern Europe for Gene and Cellular Therapies in the Treatment of Cancer has started tests for a vaccine to fight the novel Coronavirus-COVID-19.

“Important day for OncoGen: we have the Vaccine (equivalent to 1,000 doses). Today we start the tests. We finished the synthesis of the vaccine yesterday. Today we start the tests! ❗️Important: this vaccine is for now in Phase I trial in the lab on human cells”, reads an announcement on the centre’s website.

A month ago, the Romanian researchers working at OncoGen based in Timisoara, western Romania, heralded that they had a new approach for producing epitope-based peptide vaccine candidates for the novel coronavirus.

“Traditional vaccines for viral diseases had limited success in the case of viral epidemics with high mutation rates. The approach that we used for designing potential peptide vaccine candidates takes a more personalized strategy, referred to as vaccinomics, which enables the selection of target viral proteins with low mutation rates, and the design of peptides tuned to the immune characteristics of the target populations, variable based on geographic location and ethnicity.

Based on the human MHC (human leukocyte antigen) allele variation, the peptide vaccines can be made more relevant to a community or individual. The selection of the peptides that could act as vaccines is determined by the binding of the processed viral peptide with the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and II molecules, and the relevant HLA alleles.

Our proposed candidate peptides take into consideration the most frequent HLA alleles found in the Romanian population,” the team of researchers explained back then.

OncoGen manager, doctor Virgil Păunescu told RRA, the Romanian public radio broadcaster, that the customised vaccine for the new coronavirus is being tested on human cells, after it had been tested on animals, and that it would be tested on humans, too, in about one month. Păunescu said the vaccine would be tested on 10 volunteers before the start of the production, which might happen in the autumn.

The team of Romanian researchers who developed the vaccine sent their study and method to other centres in the USA and Europe, in such countries that actually have the financial strength to produce the vaccine.

“Romania cannot afford producing vaccines. Practically, states like the size of Romania cannot afford having production facilities for vaccines, it’s like we’d intend to make Airbus planes in Romania”, Virgil Păunescu told Hotnews a month ago.

Details about the OncoGen’s scientific approach for the COVID-19 vaccine are available here.

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