Dublin-listed pharmaceutical services company Open Orphan has announced that its subsidiary hVivo has signed a £3 million contract to develop a "challenge virus" based on new emerging variants of Covid-19.
The contract is with Imperial College London as part of a Wellcome Trust-funded initiative to manufacture a SARS-CoV-2 challenge virus.
Under the agreement, hVivo will develop a new SARS-CoV-2 challenge virus based on new emerging variants of the virus, which will be used in future hVivo-run human challenge trials to allow direct comparisons of vaccines or antivirals against different Covid-19 variants.
In virus challenge studies, healthy volunteers are administered a pathogenic or virulent strain of virus.
The manufacturing project will begin immediately and is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
Following completion of the manufacturing project there is the potential for a follow-on characterisation study for this virus to be conducted by hVivo in partnership with Imperial and Wellcome.
The company has two decades of experience in the field across a range of respiratory viruses including various strains of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, common cold virus as well as, more recently, the initial circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus.
These challenge agents are then used in controlled human infection studies, an area that hVivo has focused on since 2001.
Dr Andrew Catchpole, chief scientific officer at hVivo, said production of a SARS-CoV-2 variant challenge virus “builds upon our knowledge and learnings from manufacturing and characterising the original Wuhan-like D614G SARS-CoV-2 virus”.
“The availability of a variant SARS-CoV-2 virus will greatly expand the utility of the SARS-CoV-2 challenge model and allow us to answer a wider range of important scientific questions to aid control of the pandemic as well as facilitate further testing of vaccines designed against Covid-19.”
Dr Chris Chiu of Imperial College London said: “By keeping up with viral evolution we will be able to address even more relevant scientific questions and test the ability of immune responses after vaccination and infection to protect against different strains of SARS-CoV-2.
“We are committed to enhancing collaboration through sharing of this virus with academic investigators around the world who have capacity to conduct human infection challenge for academic purposes, thus further enhancing the pandemic response.”