Ligandal, one of the world’s leading genetic medicine companies, has modelled a synthetic peptide that could be an effective COVID-19 treatment and SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Peptides are strings of amino acids that perform diverse biological functions and can bond with pathogens to neutralise them. Ligandal has proven the efficacy of its COVID peptide in computer modelling and simulation studies, and is currently validating the preclinical efficacy of its technology.
Vaccines currently in development face the dual challenge of overcoming the temporary immunity presented by coronavirus infection, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s highly effective cloaking mechanism that effectively renders it invisible to the immune system.
Ligandal’s technology has been designed around the unique genetic signature of the virus, which has informed the development of a peptide nanoscaffold. This peptide prevents the virus from binding with human cells, halting infection. The peptide also simultaneously disables the viral cloaking mechanism, making the virus vulnerable to an immune response.
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Andre Watson, CEO and Founder of Ligandal, says, “I started Ligandal to create practical genetic medicine technology that solves the world’s most pressing health problems. We had been developing a way of training T-cells to attack cancer tumours, but when the COVID-19 pandemic began, I realised our technology would be effective at neutralising this single, virulent pathogen without requiring a gene therapy component. The beauty of our solution is that it can be used as treatment and vaccine. In infected people, the peptide will prevent viral entry and replication, while bolstering the immune response and formation of neutralising antibodies that can eliminate the virus.
Other approaches may neutralise the virus, but many alternatives such as antibody therapies and viral-neutralising compounds will leave the body vulnerable to repeat infection. In those who haven’t been infected, the peptide will display critical immunoepitopes for antibody and T cell responses against the key parts of the virus necessary for forming a neutralising response. The peptide can also be used in conjunction with other treatments and vaccines and may bolster the efficacy of spike protein vaccines in particular, although that shouldn’t be necessary if we achieve in vivo results suggested by the in silico modelling.”
Adam Hamdy, a medical consultant and author, who recently joined the company’s advisory board, says, “The microbiological characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 make it extremely unlikely that current vaccine approaches, which rely on training the immune system but present key challenges with this virus, will offer anything more than partial protection at best. It was clear to me that any effective response to this virus had to target it directly while also bolstering immune response.”
Importantly, Ligandal’s peptide has advantages over other technologies in development because it is room temperature stable, meaning it represents a genuinely global solution, both in terms of logistics and the storage of the medicine. It also has a low cost per dose once at mass production scale, which means global production is entirely feasible. It can also move rapidly through preclinical and clinical studies given the accelerated global regulatory environment and simple at scale manufacturing process.
Andre Watson says, “As hostile actors take note of the havoc caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is clear we need better ways to ramp up our biodefense capabilities. A rapid four-year conventional vaccine cycle to trial a single solution isn’t going to be sufficient to meet future threats. Ligandal modelled its peptide within five hours of receiving a genetic sequence of the virus, and was ready to test its response in two months. We anticipate being ready to commence clinical studies later this year or very early next year. Our only limitation in getting this to the general public is how quickly we can move through the clinical studies.”
Adam Hamdy says, “A long term solution to the COVID-19 problem lies in genetic medicine. Ligandal’s peptide is an exciting leap forward in our ability to address and neutralise the virus directly. Unlike conventional vaccines, which only get one shot at proving efficacy, Ligandal’s peptide can be improved by rewriting its genetic code in response to novel viral variants, giving us the opportunity to rapidly iterate and keep at the problem until we get the answer absolutely right.”