A Bay Area pharmaceutical company says it is working on a "second generation" COVID vaccine that could work as a booster against virus variants for the already vaccinated, and potentially prevent future coronavirus pandemics.

Pleasanton-based Gritstone Oncology, which specializes in immunotherapies for cancers and infectious diseases, says that it's Coral vaccine candidate has "potential for both prolonged protection and potency" against COVID-19 and the emerging variants — which contain different and more infectious versions of the Spike protein found in the original COVID strains. As the SF Business Times reports, Gritstone has launched a Phase 1 trial and is beginning to dose patients with its Coral vaccine — and the trial is being conducted with the support of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases, and a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Andrew Allen, Gritstone founder and CEO, said in a statement that a Phase 2 trial later this year will look at Coral's potential as a booster shot for already vaccinated individuals.

Gritstone says on its website that its vaccine technology could have the potential to guard against future SARS- or coronavirus-caused pandemics, regardless of mutations. And the company believes its vaccine could prompt "a broad T cell response" in the body that would bolster immunity, along with "significant and sustained levels of neutralizing antibodies."

To wit:

Through a license agreement with the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI), one of the leading global organizations dedicated to studying the immune system, we have access to validated SARS-CoV-2 antigens that have been identified through LJI’s studies of hundreds of patients recovering from COVID-19. Using these antigens and our proprietary Gritstone EDGE™ and vaccine platform technologies, Gritstone has developed a novel vaccine containing Spike (similar to first generation vaccines) but also additional viral antigens that offer good targets for T cell immunity. By targeting several viral antigens, some of which are highly conserved between viral strains (such as SARS and SARS-CoV-2), our vaccine may have pan-SARS/coronavirus potential to protect against future coronavirus pandemics.

"Gritstone’s vaccine may provide more comprehensive viral protection by inducing a better combination of T cell responses and neutralizing antibodies as compared to the currently available vaccines," says Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development, in a January press release. "It is important that we move forward with developing these next generation vaccines because we do not yet know whether the existing vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization will provide long-term immunity or prevent transmission."

As the Business Times notes, Gritstone is also in a partnership with Bay Area-based Gilead Sciences, "to jointly develop an HIV-specific therapeutic vaccine using Gritstone’s proprietary prime-boost vaccine platform, comprised of self-amplifying mRNA (SAM) and adenoviral vectors, with antigens developed by Gilead."

Could a Bay Area company end up playing a major role in the globe's emergence from this pandemic, along with Massachusetts-based Moderna and New York-based Pfizer? We shall see.

Photo: Markus Spiske