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Biden administration awards $500M for new COVID treatments

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday announced it is awarding $500 million in grants to support the development of future COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

The funds were granted through the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) as part of the federal government’s Project NextGen, which aims to enhance preparedness against future COVID-19 variants. HHS awarded $1.4 billion in grants through the same program earlier this year.

Among the recipients were the developers of two intranasal vaccine candidates: CastleVax and Codagenix. They were awarded $8.5 million and $10 million respectively.

Intranasal vaccines are rare but not unheard of. In the U.S., the spray flu vaccine called FluMist is approved for people aged two to 49.

Joanna Kaufman, executive vice president for oncology and immunology at Codagenix, recently spoke on the available data on her company’s intranasal vaccine candidate, CoviLiv, during a discussion with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Unlike the more common mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, the intranasal candidate from Codagenix is more traditional in that is uses a modified, weakened version of the virus to induce an immune response

“CoviLiv can induce a robust, systemic immune response after intranasal delivery of this live attenuated bio-vaccine,” Kaufman said, adding that her company’s vaccine induced a response that not only targeted spike proteins — as mRNA vaccines do — but also other viral proteins that mutate less.

ASPR assistant secretary Dawn O’Connell called the grants “important steps forward” for the Biden administration.

“The vaccine selections and funding announced today are important steps forward for Project NextGen — with vaccine and therapeutics candidates moving quickly to clinical trials that will start in the coming months,” O’Connell said in a statement.

“The technologies that [HHS] is investing in, from intranasal vaccines to self-amplifying mRNA, will bolster our protection against COVID-19 for years to come,” she added.

A self-amplifying mRNA vaccine candidate being developed by Gritstone Bio was also awarded $10 million.

According to the company, its self-amplifying mRNA vaccine differs from a normal mRNA vaccine by creating multiple copies of a virus’s RNA, as opposed to a single copy. This difference potentially allows for strong potency at significantly smaller doses and better refrigerator stability.

HHS also awarded $240 million in grants to companies developing newer viral testing and sampling technologies as well as another $241 million to companies developing new treatments like monoclonal antibodies.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to keeping people safe from COVID-19,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“By investing in next-generation vaccines and treatments through Project NextGen, we can improve our ability to respond to new variants, reduce transmission, stop infections, and save lives,” he added.

Source: The Hill

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