A Cayman Islands healthcare facility has been given approval for a phase one clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Perseus Cayman Limited is looking for 20 volunteers within the islands for the first phase of human trials for its vaccine.

The Cayman Islands Health Practice Commission has approved the application to conduct the trial, the Cayman Compass has confirmed.

Anyone interested in volunteering to take part is asked to contact Dr. Sook Yin, the company’s principal investigator, by email at [email protected].

Yin, also the medical director of Perseus Cayman, which is involved in research and treatment of cancer, said she had been working for many years with the US-based scientists behind the new COVID vaccine.

“Running a trial in Cayman ensures that the people of the Caribbean are part of this initiative and puts the islands and the region on the global stage and on the leading edge of vaccine development,” she added.

“Our residents have an opportunity to take part in a trial that may offer a life-saving solution to this unprecedented global public health crisis.”

Trials in mice

Documents provided by the company to the Compass indicate the vaccine has had a 100% success rate in producing antibodies in tests on mice.

Unlike many other vaccines currently being developed, it does not contain the COVID-19 virus itself, the company indicated.

Instead of targeting the active virus, it attacks the spike proteins, which allow it to attach to human cells.

“The enhanced image of COVID-19 virus is now well recognized, largely by virtue of its distinctive external spikes,” a Perseus spokesman stated in an email to the Compass.

The spiky proteins on the outside of the COVID-19 virus are what allows it to attach to human cells.

“The COVID-19 virus attaches itself to human cells using these spike proteins, which in simple terms act as a ‘sort of Velcro’ that attaches to the human cell for long enough to invade that cell.”

Perseus Cayman Limited was originally established, in collaboration with its US scientific partner Orbis Health Solutions, to conduct clinical trials on a highly promising personalised cancer immunotherapy vaccine.

Employing the same specialised technology used to develop its cancer vaccine, the company believes it can create an effective vaccine against COVID-19, through its ability to “successfully deliver and display foreign substances (antigens), such as a virus or tumour cell, to the immune system” to help it recognise the invader and trigger an immune response.

It is believed that if the vaccine can help the immune system recognise and target the “spike proteins” of the COVID-19 virus, then the virus itself will not be able to attach itself to human cells.

Cayman trial

In a statement to the Compass, the Perseus spokesman indicated, “In pre-clinical studies, results have shown that the vaccine has been able to produce antibodies to the COVID-19 spike protein in 100 percent of cases.

“For this initial human trial, 20 volunteers are being sought to receive the vaccine to determine if a similar antibody response can be produced in humans.”

Volunteers would have their blood taken immediately to ensure they do not already have antibodies. After an injection of the vaccine, volunteers will have blood draws after one, two, four and eight weeks to test for the presence of antibodies which target the spike proteins.

Half of the patients will get a second inoculation after two weeks to determine if one or two vaccination injections are required, the spokesperson said.

If the trial is successful, the company will seek permission to expand it to a larger number of volunteers within the territory.

Dr. Sook Yin at her Perseus office in George Town.

Yin, also founder of the Seven Mile Medical Clinic, added, “I am delighted that the developers of this vaccine chose the Cayman Islands as the site for this trial and that the Health Practice Commission, after due deliberation, has granted permission ​to initiate the trial​…

“Based on years of work with this team of scientists and researchers, I have every confidence in the science and technology behind the vaccine and I am proud to be working with them to advance this cutting-edge study.”

Perseus says it has been successfully and safely conducting clinical trials in the field of cancer immunotherapy since 2012. The COVID-19 vaccine builds on the research breakthroughs it has made in Cayman during that time.

Switch to COVID research

The wife of Dr. Thomas Wagner, the founder of Orbis and a partner in Perseus, is from Wuhan, China – the epicentre of the virus.

“As soon as the virus was identified and its DNA was sequenced in mid-December, our team immediately began work on a DNA vaccine to fight the virus,” the company stated.

Perseus stressed that its proposed solution is believed to be safer than others in the course of development because it does not use the COVID-19 virus itself.

In a statement, the company said, “Perseus and its scientific partners at Orbis believe that if the spike proteins can be recognized and targeted by the immune system, then the virus can be attacked by the immune system before it is able to fasten itself to body cells.

“It is this unique approach, namely the training of the immune system to target the spike proteins of the virus, that is the strategy behind this particular vaccine.

“Unlike other vaccines in development, this particular vaccine avoids using any part of the virus itself, only the DNA encoding the spike protein. It is this encoding DNA that is delivered directly into the dendritic cells.

“For this reason, it is hoped that the Perseus/Orbis approach will prove to be not only effective against the virus but also be an inherently safer vaccine option.”

Cancer research

Perseus has been conducting trials in Cayman using its patented cancer immunotherapy vaccines for the past several years.

To date, more than 100 cancer patients with 15 different tumour types have been treated with a personalised, therapeutic cancer vaccine in Cayman, according to the company. A further 240 high-risk melanoma patients have been vaccinated in related trials (using the same vaccine methodology) in the United States.

“As a result of the success of the trials to date, agreement has been reached with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States to move forward on a registrational Phase III trial in melanoma,” the company added.

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