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LSU working on 'unique' COVID-19 vaccine; applying for expedited funding

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BATON ROUGE -The race to create a COVID-19 vaccine is well underway. Worldwide there are currently 100 different vaccine candidates being worked on. But at LSU's School of Veterinary Medicine, researchers are working on one unlike anything else.

"Our is unique," Dr. Gus Kousoulas said. "There is no other effort that is actually even closely similar to what we have."

While many researchers and companies are starting from scratch on a vaccine, LSU is building off of an already available vaccine used to protect against herpes and the flu. 

"The [herpes] platform itself has already proven to be efficacious," Kousoulas said. "By adding the SARS-CoV-2 proteins, we're actually creating a specific vaccine for COVID-19."

LSU's effort took another big step Friday. An application was filed for expedited or "fast-track" funding from the National Institutes of Health to begin testing the vaccine in mice in the next few months. 

Many other vaccine efforts are skipping most or all animal testing trials to try to get a vaccine on the market faster. Kousoulas says a long-term solution will take time.

"The chances of having a partially efficacious vaccine is probably good," Kousoulas said. "However, I think that to be able to convince the public that this is a safe vaccine for wide use, it will take much longer than that." 

In addition to the grant application filed Friday, researchers will soon file another request to test the vaccine on monkeys at the Tulane National Primate Research Center. This animal testing, Kousoulas says, is key to proving a vaccine's possibly viability.

"We believe that animal studies, including mice and monkeys, will show that the LSU patented vaccine is much more efficacious in conferring long-term responses to the virus."

The university is already in talks with companies to help expand trials down the road. Kousoulas says if NIH "fast-track" funding is approved.

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