Touchlight and Vanderbilt University collaborate on pandemic response

29-Jul-2021

The collaboration will explore the use of synthetic dbDNA to deliver antibody-based prophylaxis against pandemic disease threats

Touchlight, a synthetic DNA manufacturer, is collaborating with the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center (VVC) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as part of the DARPA P3 programme.

The collaboration will explore the use of synthetic dbDNA to deliver antibody-based prophylaxis against pandemic disease threats. The aim is to make such therapies available in a significantly shorter timeframe by avoiding the long and costly large-scale production requirements of both conventional antibody-based treatments and plasmid DNA manufacture. Unlike vaccines, prophylactic antibodies reportedly have an immediate neutralising effect against the virus and may be able to act as a vaccine alternative or supplement whilst immunity builds.

Touchlight will develop and test a panel of novel dbDNA designs that encode for anti-Zika antibodies identified by Vanderbilt with the goal of boosting expression of the antibody to therapeutic levels. The project will also investigate a variety of delivery mechanisms including electroporation and targeted nanoparticles. The combination of these two aspects is aimed to deliver an improved expression profile in patients that enables rapid onset of protective levels of antibody.

The company’s synthetic DNA vector brings multiple advantages over traditional plasmid DNA manufacture and other nucleic acid manufacturing techniques, it claims, including speed, reliability and scalability.

Sarah Moore, Director of Gene Therapy Research at Touchlight said: “Antibody treatments can be the key to a swift pandemic response, if they can provide a good level of protection at short notice, until vaccines are available. We believe that the use of dbDNA to generate antibodies in vivo has the potential to significantly accelerate the availability of such therapies.”

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Robert Carnahan, Associate Director at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that the most significant bottleneck to rapid antiviral antibody therapeutics is the speed and scaling of manufacturing and delivery. Nucleic acid-delivered antibodies are a vital need in our pandemic fighting arsenal to directly address this bottleneck. Touchlight dbDNA’s technology presents the possibility of addressing these pressing needs in therapeutic antibody manufacturing speed and scalability.”

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