Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research will soon be announcing that they have developed a vaccine that is effective against COVID-19 and all its variants.
The U.S Army lab received its first DNA sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020. Since then, they have been working on finding a vaccine that can be effective against all variants of the disease.
Walter Reed’s Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine or SpFN has completed animal trials with positive results. Phase 1 of human trials just got completed this month. Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, said in an exclusive interview with Defense One on Tuesday. The new vaccine will still need to undergo phase 2 and phase 3 trials.
“We’re testing our vaccine against all the different variants, including Omicron,” Modjarrad said.
On Wednesday, Walter Reed officials stated that it “was not tested on the Omicron variant,“ but later clarified in an email to Defense One that while the recently discovered variant was not part of the animal studies, it is being tested in the lab against clinical human trial samples. These “neutralization assays” test whether antibodies can inhibit the growth of a virus.
“We want to wait for those clinical data to be able to kind of make the full public announcements, but so far everything has been moving along exactly as we had hoped,” Modjarrad said.
Walter Reed’s SpFN is different from other vaccines. It uses a soccer-ball-shaped protein with 24 faces for its vaccine, which allows scientists to attach the spikes of several coronavirus strains on different faces of the protein.
“It’s very exciting to get to this point for our entire team and I think for the entire Army as well,” Modjarrad said.
The vaccine was tested on people who had not been infected with or vaccinated against the virus.
“With Omicron, there’s no way really to escape this virus. You’re not going to be able to avoid it. So, I think pretty soon either the whole world will be vaccinated or have been infected,” Modjarrad said.
The next phase will be on the subjects who have been infected with a virus and vaccinated against it.
“We need to evaluate it in the real-world setting and try to understand how the vaccine performs in much larger numbers of individuals who have already been vaccinated with something else initially…or already been sick,” Modjarrad said.
He said nearly all of Walter Reed’s 2,500 staff have had some role in the vaccine’s nearly-two-year development.
“We decided to take a look at the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of SARS, and instead understand that viruses mutate, there will be variants that emerge, future viruses that may emerge in terms of new species. Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that.”