CSU receives grant to research inactivating coronavirus

FORT COLLINS — A team of infectious disease researchers at Colorado State University in Fort Collins has entered into an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to further develop a  virus inactivation process, successfully used for MERS, which has the potential to inactivate the novel coronavirus.

Biomedical Advanced Research  is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

CSU will receive $699,994 from BARDA to support preclinical research on the vaccine technology process — known as SolaVAX — which repurposes a commercial platform that is currently used to inactivate pathogens in blood transfusions. The strategy uses UV light and riboflavin to produce an inactivated virus that stimulates a person’s immune system to fight the virus.

The university will contribute $448,143 to support this project, bringing the total contribution  for this phase of the research to $1.15 million.

The project will demonstrate the effectiveness of the SolaVAX process to inactivate the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. It could also  advance vaccine manufacturing capabilities globally.

“We are building off of nearly 20 years of experience of using this process to improve the safety of blood transfusion products,” Ray Goodrich, executive director of the Infectious Disease Research Center at CSU, said in a press release. “That prior knowledge and current experience helps to translate this rapidly into a way to manufacture vaccine products,” he added.

During a  global pandemic, the ability to produce large quantities of vaccines in a cost-effective manner is critical. The SolaVAX platform has already been shown to inactivate MERS-CoV — another virus in the coronavirus family — efficiently and has also been evaluated for production of other vaccine products.

As the research progresses, the team will scale up production of the virus and key reagents for research and manufacturing at the university’s biomanufacturing plant. The Biosafety Level 3 facility is already making products for other infectious diseases under sponsorship from the federal government, industry and major foundations.