US Army Launches Early-Stage COVID-19 Vaccine Study

Army’s SpFN vaccine candidate employs a ferritin protein found in almost all living organisms
army doc helping a little toddler
(Precision Vaccinations)

Scientists with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) announced they expect to begin Phase 1 clinical trials of a vaccine designed to combat the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus later in 2020.

“There’s a lot that gives me encouragement about this vaccine approach that we’re taking,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of Emerging Infectious Diseases at USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), during a press briefing with national media outlets on October 14, 2020.

Dr. Modjarrad noted that the production of the vaccine candidate – which was developed internally at WRAIR – has already begun at WRAIR’s own bio-production facility. The vaccine, currently dubbed “SpFN” (short for “spike ferritin nanoparticle,” and pronounced “spiff-in” according to Modjarrad) employs ferritin, a protein found in almost all living organisms, to achieve its intended goal.

By attaching a certain type of spike protein to a polymerized version of ferritin, WRAIR scientists hope the resulting vaccination dose will block COVID-19 infection.

Said Modjarrad of the development process, “The results we’re seeing and the methods that are being applied to our vaccine in the animal studies are showing […] consistent results from the methodology [so] that we can benchmark it against the other vaccine candidates.”

With regard to SpFN, Modjarrad is hopeful the platform could eventually be used as a universal vaccine that could, in time, also be applied to future coronaviruses.

Aside from the SpFN vaccine, Modjarrad also noted during the press briefing that a large number of subject matter experts across the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) – including himself and others at WRAIR – are also currently providing technical expertise for a variety of other, additional vaccine candidates being developed via funding from Operation Warp Speed (OWS) – the federal effort to develop countermeasures to COVID-19. 

Both WRAIR and the larger USAMRDC are also providing resources at their various laboratory locations to help with clinical evaluation of said vaccines.

Notably, scientists at WRAIR began developing several vaccine prototypes utilizing a previously-tested platform back in January – at the very beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak – in an attempt to identify those capable of inducing the strongest immune response. 

The most promising prototype was then shipped to USAMRDC’s U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) for large animal efficacy testing. This early effort by USAMRDC labs likely saved weeks of valuable time.

“We are trying to not just be in a reactive mode but to be anticipating the next coronavirus that might emerge from the animal reservoir,” said Modjarrad.

PrecisionVaccinations publishes research-based vaccine development news.