INRS researchers involved in work to create a COVID-19 vaccine

Laval-based Glycovax Pharma has partnered in the research

Professors Nicolas Doucet and Yves St-Pierre of the Laval-based Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) are contributing their expertise in structural and cell biology to the race for a vaccine against COVID-19.

In partnership with Glycovax Pharma, a company with operations also in Laval, the two researchers will evaluate the feasibility of a vaccine strategy targeting carbohydrate molecules located on the surface of the coronavirus Spike protein.

A fortunate coincidence

Professor Nicolas Doucet, researcher and expert in structural biology at the INRS. (Photo: courtesy INRS.)

“It was a fortunate coincidence that the carbohydrate molecules on which the biopharmaceutical company has been working on since 2017 are present on the Spike protein. Glycovax Pharma is one step ahead because antibody development is already ongoing,” says Professor Doucet.

Even if antibodies are currently being synthesized, two key issues need to be considered. First, the antibodies must be able to reach the targeted carbohydrates on the Spike protein. Researchers also need to ensure that these carbohydrate molecules are present on the Spike protein at all times, regardless of the type of infected cells in the host.

Essential steps to follow

“For instance, SARS-CoV-2 is known to attack the respiratory system, so if the lung cells do not attach the proper carbohydrates of interest to the coronavirus Spike protein after infection, the strategy may not be effective,” he cautions.

“These are essential steps in validating a vaccine approach. Our results will allow Glycovax Pharma to prioritize certain antibodies or to put forward other complementary approaches,” he says.

The research project in partnership with Glycovax Pharma is funded by a Mitacs Accelerate grant that will support the work of postdoctoral fellow Yossef López de los Santos over the next year.

An exciting project

“It’s exciting to be part of a talented team that is committed to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. I see our goal as quite ambitious, but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity to use our expertise in structural biology to help address a global problem.”

“This partnership with INRS experts in structural and cellular biology represents an important contribution in the pursuit of our work,” says Dany Valiquette, president of Glycovax. “Their contribution will help us take essential steps in the development of a new vaccine to counter COVID-19.”