Two UW virologists team up with biotech companies on coronavirus vaccine

Gabriele Neumann (left) and Yoshihiro Kawaoka (Photo by UW-Madison)
Gabriele Neumann (left) and Yoshihiro Kawaoka (Photo by UW-Madison)(NBC15)
Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 12:21 PM CDT
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Two University of Wisconsin Madison virologists are teaming up with a pair of biotech companies for a new type of vaccine to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. The team hopes to begin human testing on the product, dubbed CoroFlu, as soon as this fall.

The product is described as a nasal spray that would repurpose a regular flu vaccine candidate, M2SR, by inserting gene sequences from the coronavirus strain that leads to COVID-19 into the influenza virus it already uses, according to

from the University of Wisconsin.

The vaccine candidate was invented by UW’s Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Gabriele Newmann, who went on to found FluGen, one of the biotech companies involved in the development process. They expect to spend the next three to six months refining the vaccine and conducting animal testing.

Bharat Biotech, which is based in Hyderabad, India, would then begin scaling up production to get ready for safety and efficacy testing in humans.

The University explained M2SR is a unique form of the flu virus that lacks a specific gene and can only reproduce a single time.

“The single replication means the virus can enter the cell, but it can’t leave,” FluGen co-founder, president and CEO Paul Radspinner said. “So, in essence it tricks the body into thinking it’s infected with flu, which triggers a full immune response. But since it can’t replicate further, you don’t get sick.”

Delivering the vaccine through the nose is also designed to emulate the way a flu virus is naturally spread, UW noted, and do so reportedly helps a body’s immune system know how to react.