US-based CEL-SCI has agreed to collaborate with the University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology to develop LEAPS COVID-19 immunotherapy.

CEL-SCI has developed an immunotherapy candidate, dubbed Ligand Antigen Epitope Presentation System (LEAPS) platform technology, to treat patients at highest risk of dying from COVID-19.

CEL-SCI CEO Geert Kersten said: “We are eager to commence these studies, which if successful, may lead to clinical trials in humans to address the immediate and critical need to treat COVID-19 in the most vulnerable patients.

“We are very pleased and honored to partner with Dr. Ted M. Ross and his team and the University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology. Their world-renowned expertise and world-class facilities will accelerate the development of LEAPS COVID-19 immunotherapy.”

LEAPS immunotherapy will reduce progression of the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection

The collaboration is aimed at conducting pre-clinical studies, based on the experiments previously conducted in partnership with the National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), against another respiratory virus, H1N1, involved in the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

The company said that the previous studies showed that its LEAPS immunotherapy, administered after the virus infection, would reduce the morbidity and mortality in mice infected with H1N1.

Based on the previous studies with H1N1, LEAPS coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2 immunotherapy is thought to reduce or cease the progression of the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection and prevent tissue damage from inflammation resulting from lung infection by the virus, said the company.

In addition, the LEAPS immunotherapy would be beneficial for patients who are at high risk of mortality from COVID-19, by stimulating accurate immune responses to the virus, and avoiding unwanted inflammatory responses associated with the damage of lung tissue.

The University of Georgia (UGA) Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI) is said to have a diverse team of experts in the areas of infectious disease, veterinary medicine, ecology and public health.

The advanced biocontainment research resources at the university will be joined with the expertise of CVI investigators, to test and assess the vaccines and immunotherapies in development by industry, governmental and academic institutions.

University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology director and professor of infectious diseases Ted M Ross will lead the CEL-SCI’s COVID-19 studies as principal investigator.

Ross said: “LEAPS has the potential to be a powerful tool against SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, based on its dual anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.

“Combining the prior pre-clinical data of LEAPS against H1N1 with our advancing knowledge of COVID-19, we aim to rapidly evaluate this technology’s potential to meet the urgent need to treat patients at greatest risk of dying from this global pandemic.

“The University of Georgia’s biocontainment labs at the Center for Vaccines and Immunology are ideally suited for these studies, and will serve as critical assets in this collaboration with CEL-SCI.”