A Novel RBD-Protein/Peptide Vaccine Elicits Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies and Protects Mice and Macaques against SARS-CoV-2

The development of safe and effective vaccines to respond to COVID-19 pandemic/endemic remains a priority. We developed a novel subunit protein-peptide COVID-19 vaccine candidate (UB-612) composed of: (i) receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein fused to a modified single-chain human IgG1 Fc; (ii) five synthetic peptides incorporating conserved helper and cytotoxic T lymphocyte (Th/CTL) epitopes derived from SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins (three from S2 subunit, one from membrane and one from nucleocapsid), and one universal Th peptide; (iii) aluminum phosphate as adjuvant. The immunogenicity and protective immunity induced by UB-612 vaccine were evaluated in four animal models: Sprague-Dawley rats, AAV-hACE2 transduced BALB/c mice, rhesus and cynomolgus macaques. UB-612 vaccine induced high levels of neutralizing antibody and T-cell responses, in all animals. The immune sera from vaccinated animals neutralized the SARS-CoV-2 original wild-type strains and multiple variants of concern, including Delta and Omicron. The vaccination significantly reduced viral loads, lung pathology scores, and disease progression after intranasal and intratracheal challenge with SARS-CoV-2 in mice, rhesus and cynomolgus macaques. UB-612 has been tested in primary regimens in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical studies and is currently being evaluated in a global pivotal Phase 3 clinical study as a single dose heterologous booster.