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A first-in-human evaluation of the safety and immunogenicity of SCB-2019, an adjuvanted, recombinant SARS-CoV-2 trimeric S-protein subunit vaccine for COVID-19 in healthy adults; a phase 1, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

By Peter Richmond, Lara Hetchual, Min Dong, Brenda Ma, Branda Hu, Igor Smolenov, Ping Li, Peng Liang, Htay Htay Han, Joshua Liang, Ralf Clemens

Posted 04 Dec 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.03.20243709

Background: As part of the accelerated development of prophylactic vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) we report a first-in-human dose-finding and adjuvant justification study of SCB-2019, a novel protein subunit vaccine candidate composed of a stabilised trimeric form of the spike (S)-protein produced in CHO-cells, combined with two different adjuvants. Methods: This phase 1 study was done in one centre in Western Australia in 151 healthy adult volunteers in two age groups (18 to 54 and 55 to 75 years), allocated to 15 groups (nine young and six older adults) to receive two doses, 21 days apart, of placebo, or 3 {micro}g, 9 {micro}g or 30 {micro}g SCB-2019, alone or adjuvanted with AS03 or CpG/Alum. Reactogenicity was assessed for 7 days after each vaccination. Humoral responses were measured as SCB-2019 binding and ACE2-competitive binding IgG antibodies by ELISA, and as neutralising antibodies by wild-type SARS-CoV-2 microneutralisation assay; cellular responses to pooled S-protein peptides were measured by flow-cytometric intracellular cytokine staining. Findings: We report on 148 participants with at least 4 weeks follow-up post dose 2. Three participants withdrew, two for personal reasons and one with an unrelated SAE (pituitary adenoma). Vaccination was well tolerated, with few Grade 3 solicited adverse events (AE). Most local AEs were mild injection site pain, which were more frequent with formulations containing AS03 than CpG/Alum or unadjuvanted SCB-2019. Systemic AEs, mostly transient headache, fatigue or myalgia, were more frequent in young adults than older adults after the first dose, but similar after second doses. Unadjuvanted SCB-2019 elicited minimal immune responses, but SCB-2019 with fixed doses of AS03 or CpG/Alum induced high titres and seroconversion rates of binding and neutralising antibodies in both young and older adults. Titres were higher than those observed in a panel of COVID-19 convalescent sera in all AS03 groups and high dose CpG/Alum groups. Both adjuvanted formulations elicited Th1-biased CD4+ T cell responses. Interpretation: SCB-2019 trimeric protein formulated with AS03 or CpG/Alum adjuvants elicited robust humoral and cellular immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 with high viral neutralising activity. Both adjuvanted formulations were well tolerated and are suitable for further clinical development.

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