Sidra Medicine Supports Safe Development of COVID-19 vaccine

QF entity at the forefront of addressing global pandemic challenges in partnership with Harvard Medical School and Tulane University of Medicine

08 September 2020, Doha, Qatar – Sidra Medicine, a member of Qatar Foundation, is working with an international research consortium in the ongoing global race to find a safe and effective vaccine to tackle the COVID-19 virus.

The research program led by Dr. Ussama M. Abdel-Motal, Staff Scientist from Sidra Medicine’s Human Genetics Department is being done in collaboration with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Tulane University School of Medicine in the United States of America. The international team have developed a uniquely powerful humanized mouse model that closely represents the pathology and immunological responses developed by human patients; with the potential to bring about an enhanced and safe SARS-coV2 vaccine.

Dr. Ussama M. Abdel-Motal

Dr. Ussama M. Abdel-Motal

“The scale of the pandemic has meant that over 160 COVID-19 vaccines are currently being developed worldwide, in the hopes that the more candidates being tested, the higher the likelihood of finding a vaccine that is both safe and effective. Our global team have developed a humanized mouse model which mimics the reaction to the human immune system thereby creating an effective alternative source for testing the efficacy of the vaccine. We are excited at the prospect of what this research could mean in speeding up the safe process of finding a cure for the virus in human-like immune settings without harming humans,” said Dr. Abdel-Motal.

Mouse models play a critical role in vaccine development as they are utilized as tools to evaluate immune responses against all types of agents influencing the immune system. While the method is well established within biomedical research, there is currently limited understanding in how the immune system responds to COVID-19.

Dr. Abdel-Motal’s previous research in the U.S.A has shown that vaccines (for example, the flu vaccine) that expressed carbohydrate molecules (called alpha-gal epitopes) generated a significantly strong protective antibody response that destroyed virus-infected cells. The effectiveness of that vaccine resulted from the strong interaction between the carbohydrate molecules and a unique protein (called Gal antibody) that is naturally secreted in large quantities by the human body.

Professor Wayne Marasco from Harvard Medical School, who collaborated with Dr. Abdel-Motal on developing the new mouse model said: “We are working on generating human anti-COVID-19 antibodies and vaccines and look forward to further collaboration with Dr. Abdel-Motal at Sidra Medicine. Importantly, the use of the anti-Gal to boost the antibody response to SARS-coV2 spike protein may greatly aid in developing and maintaining a high-level, protective response.”

Mice do not secrete the human Gal antibodies or have human cellular immune cells, however the novel humanized mouse model does. This ultimately makes the new model - developed by the Sidra Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Tulane School of Medicine consortium - the most distinguished and promising humanized mouse model to test the generation of an effective coronavirus vaccine and potentially limiting the need on extensive testing on humans.

“Once the uniquely designed COVID-19 vaccine is injected in the new humanized mouse model, the secreted human Gal antibodies in the mice interacts strongly with the vaccine and generates antibodies that fight and protect from the COVID-19 virus. We believe the vaccine will be even more effective in humans as our bodies have larger amounts of the naturally secreted Gal antibodies,” continued Dr. Abdel-Motal.

Dr. Stephen Braun from Tulane University of Medicine, U.S.A said: “The new animal model developed by Dr. Abdel-Motal is a powerful tool for rapidly assessing the human immune system and accelerating COVID-19 therapeutic testing.”

Dr. Khalid Fakhro

Dr. Khalid Fakhro 

Dr. Khalid Fakhro, Acting Chief Research Officer at Sidra Medicine said: “At Sidra Medicine, we continue to collaborate with top global research institutions offering solutions that address the COVID-19 pandemic. This novel mouse model, for example, is unique in its ability to mimic the human immune system, making it a suitable model to understand how immunity develops towards this new coronavirus, and to help develop a vaccine candidate in the future.”

Details about the model have been published in the Journal of Immunology and is also available in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) peer-reviewed online journal:

Sidra Medicine is not a COVID-19 designated hospital and does not treat COVID-19 patients. For any inquiries regarding COVID-19, please call Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health hotline: 16000.

Read the Arabic press release here.