An innovative COVID-19 vaccine developed by Prof. İhsan Gürsel of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics in collaboration with his spouse, Prof. Mayda Gürsel of Middle East Technical University, was recently granted Phase I clinical trial approval by TITCK; administration of the candidate vaccine to volunteers began on March 27. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added the study to its COVID-19 candidate vaccine landscape and tracker list.The vaccine that the Gürsels’ research team has been working on is based on the use of virus-like particles (VLP). In announcing (via Twitter) the inclusion of the vaccine on the WHO list, Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank noted that it was only the fourth such vaccine candidate in the world to have entered the human clinical trial stage.
The team’s vaccine is also listed in the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker and the compilation of COVID-19 studies accessible through the US National Library of Medicine’s clinicaltrials.gov site.
The Gürsels’ project is among 17 supported by the COVID-19 Vaccine and Drug Platform of the Scientific and Technological Research of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), which is overseeing eight vaccine and nine drug studies with the aim of combatting the deadly outbreak. Their vaccine is the only VLP-based vaccine in development in Turkey.
The VLP concept works on the principle of mimicking a noninfectious type of SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19). VLPs are basically multiprotein structures that copy cardinal features of the virus, but do not replicate the viral genome. The vaccine elicits an immune response without inducing an infection.
Prof. Gürsel notes that this is the only VLP vaccine in clinical trials that uses the four structural proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as the vaccine antigen source. Following the demonstration of the safety and immunogenicity of the VLP vaccine on healthy volunteers, the team is expecting to initiate a Phase II clinical trial by the end of May.