The University of Wisconsin announced the development of a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, and are offering $1.5 million in grants for COVID-19 research and community aid through the Wisconsin Partnership Program.
An international group of virologists at UW, in collaboration with the vaccine companies FluGen and Bharat Biotech, have begun to develop and test an original vaccine against COVID-19 called CoroFlu.
CEO of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Erik Iverson spoke about the project in the news release.
“The partners in this endeavor — University of Wisconsin researchers, a biotech startup, and an international vaccine developer — are moving forward with a sense of urgency and integrity incumbent upon us as scientists and world citizens,” Iverson said.
M2SR is a flu vaccine that activates an immune response against the flu. Based on this invention by UW virologists and FluGen co-founders Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Gabriele Neumann, M2SR will serve as the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the news release.
Explained by the news release, Kawaoka’s lab will work to insert gene sequences from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, into M2SR in hopes the new vaccine will also prompt immunity against the coronavirus.
“CoroFlu will also express the influenza virus hemagglutinin protein, which is the major influenza virus antigen, so we should get immune responses to both coronavirus and influenza,” Neumann said the news release.
According to the news release, refinement of the vaccine and its testing at UW is expected to take three to six months. Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, India will then produce the vaccine for clinical trials. Bharat Biotech has commercialized 16 vaccines and has the ability to produce almost 300 million doses of CoroFlu per year.
As a result of the expediency of the research, trials and production, CoroFlu could be tested in human clinical trials by fall 2020, according to the news release.
Also in response to the pandemic, a new Wisconsin Partnership Program funding opportunity hopes to aid researchers and community organizations to combat the present challenges facing Wisconsin from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release from UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Wisconsin Partnership Program University Relations Specialist Anne Pankratz discussed the expeditious turnaround time and communal relief focus of the COVID-19 Grant Program in an email.
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“The grant program was developed to help researchers and community organizations address immediate needs and challenges that the pandemic is creating,” Pankratz said. “It was designed with a brief turn-around time in mind to help address immediate needs, rather than long-term challenges.”
COVID-19 Response Grant Program serves as a rapid response mechanism to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through scientific, medical or public health approaches, the grant program page said.
According to the Wisconsin Partnership Program, this funding opportunity supports community projects working to improve and protect the health of the people of Wisconsin, with an emphasis on high-risk populations.
“We expect that researchers across the UW campus may apply for funding for projects that have the potential to lessen the impact of COVID-19, by focusing on medical and scientific advances as well as public health initiatives,” Pankratz said.
According to the Wisconsin Partnership Program, the grant opportunity will fund up to $1.5 million in total awards. $750,000 will go to support community-led projects and the other $750,000 to support projects led by UW researchers. The grant opportunity’s award amounts will range from $25,000 and $150,000, for up to 12 months.