A COVID-19 vaccine candidate using SpyCatcher multimerization of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein receptor-binding domain induces potent neutralising antibody responses

There is dire need for an effective and affordable vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 to tackle the ongoing pandemic. In this study, we describe a modular virus-like particle vaccine candidate displaying the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein receptor-binding domain (RBD) using SpyTag/SpyCatcher technology (RBD-SpyVLP). Low doses of RBD-SpyVLP in a prime-boost regimen induced a strong neutralising antibody response in mice and pigs that was superior to convalescent human sera. We evaluated antibody quality using ACE2 blocking and neutralisation of cell infection by pseudovirus or wild-type SARS-CoV-2. Using competition assays with a monoclonal antibody panel, we showed that RBD-SpyVLP induced a polyclonal antibody response that recognised all key epitopes on the RBD, reducing the likelihood of selecting neutralisation-escape mutants. The induction of potent and polyclonal antibody responses by RBD-SpyVLP provides strong potential to address clinical and logistic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, RBD-SpyVLP is highly resilient, thermostable and can be lyophilised without losing immunogenicity, to facilitate global distribution and reduce cold-chain dependence.

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