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Optimization of Non-Coding Regions for a Non-Modified mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine

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Abstract

The CVnCoV (CureVac) mRNA vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 has recently been evaluated in a phase 2b/3 efficacy trial in humans1. CV2CoV is a second-generation mRNA vaccine with non-modified nucleosides but optimized non-coding regions and enhanced antigen expression. Here we report a head-to-head study of the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of CVnCoV and CV2CoV in nonhuman primates. We immunized 18 cynomolgus macaques with two doses of 12 ug of lipid nanoparticle formulated CVnCoV, CV2CoV, or sham (N=6/group). CV2CoV induced substantially higher binding and neutralizing antibodies, memory B cell responses, and T cell responses as compared with CVnCoV. CV2CoV also induced more potent neutralizing antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the delta variant. Moreover, CV2CoV proved comparably immunogenic to the BNT162b2 (Pfizer) vaccine in macaques. While CVnCoV provided partial protection against SARS-CoV-2 challenge, CV2CoV afforded more robust protection with markedly lower viral loads in the upper and lower respiratory tract. Binding and neutralizing antibody titers correlated with protective efficacy. These data demonstrate that optimization of non-coding regions can greatly improve the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of a non-modified mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in nonhuman primates.

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Correspondence to Susanne Rauch or Dan H. Barouch.

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Gebre, M.S., Rauch, S., Roth, N. et al. Optimization of Non-Coding Regions for a Non-Modified mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04231-6

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