Envisioning Next Generation Immuno-Modulated, Multivalent COVID-19 DNA Vaccines

Emerging data from the recent literature indicates that the quality of the immune response as opposed to its absolute magnitude is what dictates SARS-CoV-2 viral clearance and recovery and that an ineffective or non-neutralizing enhanced antibody response might actually exacerbate disease. The first-generation COVID-19 vaccines were developed for rapid production and deployment and were not optimized for generating cellular responses that result in effective viral clearance. Though early data has indicated some of these vaccines to be over 95% effective, these first-generation vaccines were primarily designed to generate a strong antibody response and, while they have been shown to provide prophylactic protection against disease, the durability of this protection is currently unclear. The vast majority of these vaccines have been specifically developed to target the SARS-CoV-2 Spike (S) protein (antigen), though it is known that restricting a vaccine to a sole viral antigen creates selection pressure that can serve to facilitate the emergence of viral resistance. Indeed, even prior to full vaccine rollout, it has been observed that the S protein is a locus for rapid evolutionary and functional change as evidenced by the D614G, Y453F, 501Y.V2, and VUI-202012/01 mutations/deletions. This propensity for mutation of the S protein leads to future risk of efficacy reduction over time as these mutations accumulate.

Celsion’s next generation vaccine initiative stands at the confluence of immunotherapy and immunogenicity and envisions delivery, on a single plasmid, multiple SARS-CoV-2 antigens in conjunction with a potent immune modifier, interleukin-12 (IL-12), which directs a TH-1 immune response, stimulates T-cell immunity, and also promises the promotion of humoral immunity (antibody response). While most COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage clinical development are monovalent (S protein antigen only), Celsion has taken this multivalent approach in an effort to generate an even more robust immune response that not only results in a strong neutralizing antibody response, but also a more robust and durable T-cell response.

Celsion’s vaccine candidate approach comprises a single plasmid vector containing the DNA sequence encoding the cytokine IL-12 and multiple SARS-CoV-2 antigens, including S antigen in combination with the membrane (M) or nucleocapsid (N) antigen. Delivery will be evaluated intramuscularly, intradermally, or subcutaneously with a non-viral synthetic DNA delivery carrier that facilitates vector delivery into the cells of the injected tissue and has potential immune adjuvant properties. Unique designs and formulations of Celsion vaccine candidates offer several key advantages.


  • While the antibodies against S antigen would prevent virus entry into cells, the M and N antibodies could help virus clearance through antibody-mediated opsonization and phagocytosis. The presentation of multiple antigens on the cell surface of vaccine-injected tissue produces a broad variety of killer T-cells which could potentially produce more efficient viral clearance than a single antigen vaccine.


  • Since IL-12 is an essential regulator of the differentiation, proliferation, and maintenance of T helper 1 (TH-1) cells that generate killer T-cells and memory T-cells against virally infected cells, its simultaneous expression could boost the viral clearance by the vaccine and improve the immune system’s memory against any future exposure of the same virus.


  • Finally, the synthetic polymeric DNA carrier is an important component of the vaccine composition as it has the potential to facilitate the vaccine immunogenicity by improving vector delivery and, due to potential adjuvant properties, attract professional immune cells to the site of vaccine delivery.

Celsion’s PLACCINE DNA vaccine technology platform is characterized by a single multi-cistronic DNA plasmid vector expressing multiple pathogen antigens along with a potent immune modifier and delivered with a synthetic delivery system. It is easily adaptable to creating vaccines for a multitude of pathogens, including emerging pathogens leading to pandemics as well as infectious diseases that have yet to be effectively addressed with current vaccine technologies. This flexible vaccine platform is well supported by an already established supply chain to produce any plasmid vector and its assembly into a respective vaccine formulation.