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19th June 2022 COVID-19

South Australian Omicron COVID-19 vaccine starting human trials

Mak COVID vaccine

A cutting-edge DNA vaccine designed by University of Adelaide researchers and manufactured in South Australia targeting the highly-transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant – and can be easily adapted to future variants – is starting human trials.

Proudly supported by The Hospital Research Foundation Group, the vaccine has been manufactured by the FDA-approved BioCina facility at Thebarton, trialled at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in partnership with PARC Clinical Services and SA Pathology, with research undertaken at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital precinct.

It is one of the few vaccines worldwide targeting the Omicron variant, whereas Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax vaccines target the original strain of the virus.

DNA vaccines require simple engineering design modifications that can be made quickly to adapt to future variants, as opposed to MRNA-based vaccines, which are more complicated to make.

Lead investigator Associate Professor Branka Grubor-Bauk, Head of Viral Immunology at the University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Medical School, is calling on volunteers who are over the age of 18, triple vaccinated more than three months ago and have not had COVID-19, to put their hand up for the trial.

“We need to continue developing ‘next generation’ COVID-19 vaccines because the virus will continue to mutate, particularly in countries with low vaccination rates and high rates of uncontrolled transmission,” Associate Professor Grubor-Bauk said.

“As we live with COVID-19, we still have vulnerable populations at risk of severe disease.

“It is vitally important to evaluate variant-specific booster vaccines.”

The vaccine will be administered using a needle-free device from American company Pharmajet. The device delivers a micro-jet spray of liquid, which goes under the skin and is painless.

Professor Eric Gowans, National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Research Fellow at the University’s Adelaide Medical School, who is co-leading the trial, added: “Another advantage of this vaccine is its stability. It can be shipped at room temperature, stored for five years and manufactured in existing facilities en-masse.”

The University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (Research), Professor Anton Middelberg applauded the collaboration between the University’s researchers and BioCina.

“Working with our industry partners, we aim to build a new expert capability that will help contain the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, and other variants that may evolve in the future,” Professor Middelberg said.

“The ability to develop and manufacture the vaccine in existing facilities here in South Australia ensures we can secure our vaccine supply to respond to COVID-19 or any other future pathogen threats.”

SA Pathology’s Associate Professor Pravin Hissaria, Clinical Immunologist and Immunopathologist at the Immunology Department, Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Principal Clinical Investigator of this trial, said the development of highly effective vaccines had been the most effective strategy in containing COVID-19.

“It is important that we continue to innovate and adapt to the evolving viral strains and deliver precise and effective vaccines,” Associate Professor Hissaria said.

The Hospital Research Foundation Group has been funding the team’s vaccine development for the past 10 years and has been pivotal in helping it reach this point, with the ability to pivot quickly to new viruses and variants.

“It is a credit to South Australia that this vaccine has advanced so quickly and with such efficient technology,” Paul Flynn, CEO of The Hospital Research Foundation Group, said.

“This trial will ultimately determine if the vaccine is safe, but I encourage South Australians interested in participating to put their trust in a respected, safe, peer-reviewed team like the University of Adelaide’s which has a proven track record in DNA vaccines.”

How to participate:

Visit for more information. Ethics and Governance approvals are in place.

Thank you to our donors

A huge thank you to everyone who supported The Hospital Research Foundation Group’s Fund The Fight appeal in 2020 for COVID-19 research.

This vaccine is just one of the outcomes achieved as a result of this funding! Learn more from Associate Professor Branka Grubor-Bauk and Professor Eric Gowans:

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