Efficacy and breadth of adjuvanted SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain nanoparticle vaccine in macaques

bioRxiv. 2021 Apr 10;2021.04.09.439166. doi: 10.1101/2021.04.09.439166. Preprint


Emergence of novel variants of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) underscores the need for next-generation vaccines able to elicit broad and durable immunity. Here we report the evaluation of a ferritin nanoparticle vaccine displaying the receptor-binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (RFN) adjuvanted with Army Liposomal Formulation QS-21 (ALFQ). RFN vaccination of macaques using a two-dose regimen resulted in robust, predominantly Th1 CD4+ T cell responses and reciprocal peak mean neutralizing antibody titers of 14,000-21,000. Rapid control of viral replication was achieved in the upper and lower airways of animals after high-dose SARS-CoV-2 respiratory challenge, with undetectable replication within four days in 7 of 8 animals receiving 50 µg RFN. Cross-neutralization activity against SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.351 decreased only ∼2-fold relative to USA-WA1. In addition, neutralizing, effector antibody and cellular responses targeted the heterotypic SARS-CoV-1, highlighting the broad immunogenicity of RFN-ALFQ for SARS-like betacoronavirus vaccine development.

Significance statement: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) that reduce the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines is a major threat to pandemic control. We evaluate a SARS-CoV-2 Spike receptor-binding domain ferritin nanoparticle protein vaccine (RFN) in a nonhuman primate challenge model that addresses the need for a next-generation, efficacious vaccine with increased pan-SARS breadth of coverage. RFN, adjuvanted with a liposomal-QS21 formulation (ALFQ), elicits humoral and cellular immune responses exceeding those of current vaccines in terms of breadth and potency and protects against high-dose respiratory tract challenge. Neutralization activity against the B.1.351 VOC within two-fold of wild-type virus and against SARS-CoV-1 indicate exceptional breadth. Our results support consideration of RFN for SARS-like betacoronavirus vaccine development.

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