Preclinical immunogenicity and efficacy of a candidate COVID-19 vaccine based on a vesicular stomatitis virus-SARS-CoV-2 chimera

EBioMedicine. 2022 Jul 29;82:104203. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104203. Online ahead of print.


Background: To investigate a vaccine technology with potential to protect against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and reduce transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) with a single vaccine dose, we developed a SARS-CoV-2 candidate vaccine using the live vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) chimeric virus approach previously used to develop a licensed Ebola virus vaccine.

Methods: We generated a replication-competent chimeric VSV-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate by replacing the VSV glycoprotein (G) gene with coding sequence for the SARS-CoV-2 Spike glycoprotein (S). Immunogenicity of the lead vaccine candidate (VSV∆G-SARS-CoV-2) was evaluated in cotton rats and golden Syrian hamsters, and protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection also was assessed in hamsters.

Findings: VSV∆G-SARS-CoV-2 delivered with a single intramuscular (IM) injection was immunogenic in cotton rats and hamsters and protected hamsters from weight loss following SARS-CoV-2 challenge. When mucosal vaccination was evaluated, cotton rats did not respond to the vaccine, whereas mucosal administration of VSV∆G-SARS-CoV-2 was found to be more immunogenic than IM injection in hamsters and induced immunity that significantly reduced SARS-CoV-2 challenge virus loads in both lung and nasal tissues.

Interpretation: VSV∆G-SARS-CoV-2 delivered by IM injection or mucosal administration was immunogenic in golden Syrian hamsters, and both vaccination methods effectively protected the lung from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Hamsters vaccinated by mucosal application of VSV∆G-SARS-CoV-2 also developed immunity that controlled SARS-CoV-2 replication in nasal tissue.

Funding: The study was funded by Merck Sharp & Dohme, Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA, and The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Inc. (IAVI), New York, USA. Parts of this research was supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the US Department of Defense.

Keywords: Cotton rat; Mucosal vaccination; SARS-CoV-2 vaccine; Syrian hamster; VSV; Vesicular stomatitis virus.