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CEPI bets big on SK Bioscience COVID-19 vaccine

The South Korean company’s protein nanoparticle vaccine is based on University of Washington technology

by Ryan Cross
May 27, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 20


A representation of SK Bioscience's COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Credit: Ian Haydon, Institute for Protein Design
A representation of SK Bioscience's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, in which 60 coronavirus protein pieces are arrayed on a nanoparticle.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will provide up to $173.4 million to the South Korean biotech company SK Bioscience to further develop a protein nanoparticle vaccine for COVID-19.

The commitment is one of the largest for CEPI, which has invested in the early development of 12 COVID-19 vaccines. Its other commitments range from as little as $1 million for Moderna to up to $388 million for Novavax.

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SK Bioscience’s vaccine, called GBP510, was developed with scientists at the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, who have created a self-assembling protein nanoparticle technology for rapid vaccine design. The nanoparticle is formed by a spherical protein core that displays 60 copies of a portion of the coronavirus spike protein. The resulting spiky ball resembles the coronavirus itself.

CEPI has already funded SK Bioscience twice during the pandemic. In December, the nonprofit pledged up to $10 million for SK to begin a Phase 1/2 study of its vaccine in South Korea. CEPI said at the time that this was the first in a wave of “next-generation” COVID-19 vaccines that it would invest in, with a focus on shots that are easy to make and stable without deep freezing.

In March, CEPI promised up to $26.7 million more for SK to scale up manufacturing of its vaccine and to develop a modified version that can protect against emerging variants of the coronavirus such as the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa.

The new $173.4 million will go toward a Phase 3 clinical trial of the vaccine, the variant vaccine program, and scaling up manufacturing to support hundreds of millions of doses per year.



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