UTSA-Led Collaborative Team Wins Grant to Develop a COVID-19 Vaccine

By Iris Gonzalez
Karl Klose is UTSA College of Sciences Professor of Microbiology. Photo courtesy UTSA.

A consortium of scientists from San Antonio’s four largest research institutions won a $200,000 grant to fund COVID-19 vaccine development. Dr. Karl Klose, director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and professor of microbiology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), leads the team.

The presidents of UTSA, UT Health San Antonio, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) formed a new nonprofit in October 2019 called the San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics or SAPPT. The partnership funds researchers from the four institutions who work together on the interdisciplinary development of breakthrough therapies customized for patients.

Soon after the City of San Antonio announced pandemic restrictions in mid-March, the SAPPT issued a call for research proposals to combat COVID-19. After a week, the organization received 17 proposals and announced the multi-organization research team Friday afternoon.

Read more: New Precision Therapeutics Partnership to Highlight San Antonio’s Unique Bioscience Capabilities

“We are so fortunate to have this existing and deep collaboration between the four SAPPT institutions here in San Antonio already in place and developing vaccines,” said UTSA president Taylor Eighmy. “The team will be using their vaccine development platform to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as soon as possible. We want to turn the full collaborative power of our doctors, scientists and bioengineers against this pandemic threat.”

The research team aims to develop a new vaccine to combat COVID-19 based on Klose’s prototype vaccine for tularemia, a disease that can infect animals and people

Klose has been studying tularemia since the 9/11 attacks highlighted the need to study biothreats such as anthrax, plague, and tularemia. During their studies, Klose’s lab discovered how to inactivate the organism’s ability to cause disease, which led to their identifying a live vaccine candidate.

“We will learn a lot from this process, including how to use a live vaccine platform to protect against an emerging disease,” Klose said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can respond quicker with a vaccine against the next pandemic.”

Scientists at SwRI are using the advanced tularemia vaccine prototype to adapt it for humans. Since the tularemia vaccine triggers immunity against the virus infecting the lungs, the collaborative team will use Klose’s vaccine platform to see if it can also protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In addition to Klose, the team includes:

  • From SwRI, Dr. Kenneth Carson, a chemist who is formulating the vaccine to make it effective and safe
  • From UT Health San Antonio, Dr. Peter Dube, an expert in microbiology and immunology who has been working with Klose developing the tularemia vaccine to protect against anthrax and plague
  • From Texas BioMed, Dr. Luis Giavedoni, a virologist working with the live SARS CoV-2 virus who will help with the characterization of antibodies and analyze the immune response to the vaccine in vaccinated animals.

Essential labs at the four partner institutions working on COVID-19 are open and operating under modified conditions of physical distancing.

Dr. Joanne Turner, executive director of the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio, is enthusiastic over the team’s approach. The collaboration of experts at the four San Antonio research institutions reflects the innovation possible with an integrated approach to developing a vaccine for a novel virus.

“We are excited to partner with SAPPT to fast track research efforts related to ending this pandemic,” Turner said.

Featured image is of Dr. Karl Klove, lead for the collaborative team developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy UTSA.

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