Biotech companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine for cats

A group of bio technology companies are currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine for cats. 

The Italian startup Takis Biothech is partnering with Applied DNA Sciences, a company based in New York, to create a two-dose vaccine that will hopefully be administered to cats by the end of the year. 

The companies have been working on the vaccine since early last year and most recently received regulatory approval to conduct veterinary clinical trials that are expected to take up to six months. 

"The goal of the trial remains to evaluate the vaccine candidate as a strategy for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in feline companions of humans that would mitigate the animals as a potential reservoir for infections in humans," the companies wrote in a statement. 

A small number of healthy domestic cats are now wanted to participate in the trials, which both companies say are needed to demonstrate the safety of the vaccine. 

"In accelerating our vaccine development program for veterinary application, we seek to elevate our work with EvviVax in the emerging field of SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility in animals," said Dr. James A. Hayward, president and CEO, Applied DNA.

A cat, that is not eating or drinking, is looked over at the clinic at the San Diego Humane Society on April 21, 2020.

"With the initiation of the redesigned veterinary trial, we progress towards potentially commercializing our lead LinearDNA vaccine candidate for use on domestic felines while also generating valuable complementary data for potential human COVID-19 vaccine candidate trials and charting a possible development path to other animals, such as mink," said Hayward.

Hayward said a vaccine was needed after an outbreak of COVID-19 that occurred in mink farms globally, specifically devastating the economy of Denmark, which farms millions of minks for their fur.  

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"The virus’s impact on farmed mink populations globally has been especially devastating and has resulted in the collapse of Denmark’s $800 million mink fur industry. Further, mink-linked SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations identified in humans have now spread to at least seven countries," Hayward added. 

In November, Denmark’s government ordered the cull of all 15 million minks bred at Denmark’s 1,139 mink farms after a mutated variation for the coronavirus infected the animals being farmed for their fur. 

The coronavirus evolves constantly and, to date, there is no evidence that any of the mutations pose an increased danger to people. But Danish authorities were not taking any chances.

"Instead of waiting for evidence, it is better to act quickly," said Tyra Grove Krause, head department at Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark.

In December, U.S. agencies confirmed cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 at a mink farm in Oregon.