Dr. Abhay Satoskar Abhay Satoskar, MD, PhD

May 22, 2020 – An Ohio State researcher could hold the key to a COVID-19 vaccine that would help prevent the spread of the pandemic throughout the developing world.

Abhay Satoskar, MD, PhD, is developing a single vaccine that could potentially work against both COVID-19 and the world’s second-deadliest parasitic disease, leishmaniasis. The vaccine would be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

“Such a vaccine will have a significant, far-reaching impact on global health by preventing and reducing morbidity and mortality not only due to leishmaniasis but also due to SARS-CoV-2 throughout the African, Asian and South American continents,” said Dr. Satoskar, a professor and vice chair of research for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Pathology.

The dual approach of the vaccine would be its secret weapon in fighting COVID-19 in these developing areas where the virus has yet to take hold.

Leishmaniasis has ravaged the developing world for generations, infecting 12 million people worldwide and killing 50,000 each year, while leaving its survivors disfigured. Only malaria is deadlier.

In treating leishmaniasis together with SARS-CoV-2, Dr. Satoskar’s vaccine would already be familiar to populations living in leishmaniasis-endemic countries. It would also lower costs by distributing two vaccines for the price of one. 

In essence, this vaccine could overcome barriers that global health leaders have identified as the pandemic moves into developing nations.

“A multi-pathogen vaccine will be more affordable and more easily deployed with a better community acceptance in resource-poor countries,” Dr. Satoskar said. 

Dr. Satoskar and his team have been researching the prevention and treatment of leishmaniasis for more than a decade. This new research will engineer the live, weakened leishmaniasis vaccine the team has developed to produce a SARS-CoV-2 protein that triggers the body’s immune system against the virus. Phase I clinical trials for the leishmaniasis vaccine begin in 2021-22.

“We can genetically engineer weakened Leishmania parasites to make the (SARS-CoV-2) protein,” Dr. Satoskar said. “And since these (Leishmania) parasites survive in the host for eight to nine months without causing any disease, they will be a long-term and persistent source of viral proteins to immune cells to elicit a strong immune response (against COVID-19).” 

The Ohio State Office of Research granted the multi-pathogen vaccine project $26,500 this month as part of its COVID-19 seed fund. Dr. Satoskar’s team will be pursuing international grants and other funding sources for this work.

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