The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) and has spread worldwide, with millions of cases and more than 1 million deaths to date. The gravity of the situation mandates accelerated efforts to identify safe and effective vaccines. Here, we generated measles virus (MeV)-based vaccine candidates expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein (S). Insertion of the full-length S protein gene in two different MeV genomic positions resulted in modulated S protein expression. The variant with lower S protein expression levels was genetically stable and induced high levels of effective Th1-biased antibody and T cell responses in mice after two immunizations. In addition to neutralizing IgG antibody responses in a protective range, multifunctional CD8+ and CD4+ T cell responses with S protein-specific killing activity were detected. Upon challenge using a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV-2, virus loads in vaccinated mice were significantly lower, while vaccinated Syrian hamsters revealed protection in a harsh challenge setup using an early-passage human patient isolate. These results are highly encouraging and support further development of MeV-based COVID-19 vaccines.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Th1 immune bias; effective immunity; measles vaccine platform.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.