Auburn virologist to test SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates

Published: April 10, 2020
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An Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine assistant professor, Dr. Constantinos Kyriakis, will soon commence testing of new vaccine candidates that could offer protection against COVID-19 and help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Working with Professor Ted Ross, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia, Kyriakis will begin animal trials to investigate the immunogenicity of different vaccine doses and adjuvant combinations against SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Ross’ research team is designing and generating multiple vaccine candidates as part of global efforts to combat SARS-CoV-2 that has infected more than 1 million people worldwide.

Kyriakis and a team of Auburn veterinary medicine researchers will test the vaccine candidate’s ability to trigger an immune response in swine, when used alone or in combination with other ingredients. These additional ingredients, called adjuvants, are often used in vaccines to help the body create a greater immune response. Identifying the correct combination is vital to the effectiveness of any vaccine.

Having earned both a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and doctorate in virology, Kyriakis’ research has primarily focused on influenza viruses and novel vaccine technologies for more than a decade. In his previous work at the Center for Vaccines and Immunology, he studied immune responses to influenza infection and vaccination in various animal models.

“Mass vaccinations will help build what is known as ‘herd immunity,’ the cornerstone of infectious disease control,” said Kyriakis. “This will not only protect individuals from SARS-CoV-2 infection and reduce virus spread, but it will protect the entire community and, importantly, high risk groups such as the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions.”

Developing and deploying a safe and efficient vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is paramount to saving lives, yet poses a major challenge for the scientific community. Unlike influenza vaccines, effective and approved coronavirus vaccines do not currently exist for humans. Only limited data are available from experimental vaccines designed to protect against the SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV. These two zoonotic coronaviruses emerged in 2002 and 2013, respectively, causing extensive severe respiratory illness that spread between animals and people. Several experimental vaccines were tested in animal models, but only one was tested in a phase one human clinical trial.

Kyriakis is one of several Auburn veterinary medicine faculty members engaged in work related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Auburn’s veterinary specialists study the linkages between animal and human health in a broad spectrum of fields such as genomics, virology, immunology and epidemiology, and a variety of clinical practices. This intersection of human and animal medicine is vital to the creation and testing of many life-saving medical advances.

“Using reliable animal models allows us to identify target antigens, optimize our vaccine dose and formulation, and select the most promising vaccine candidates for human clinical trials,” said Kyriakis. “These steps are critical in identifying safe, effective vaccines and moving them into production as quickly as possible.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.