Statement on Bacillus Anthracis SARS-CoV-2 Research

The goal of this research protocol is to identify a potential vaccine candidate against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. The research will involve expressing a single SARS-CoV-2 protein in an attenuated (weakened) strain of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. This type of bacteria has not been shown to cause disease in humans or animals and is commonly used as a vaccine in farm animals to prevent Anthrax, a serious disease caused by a different type of bacteria. This attenuated strain does not produce toxins that can cause harm, but is useful for delivering viral proteins to cells in laboratory mice to produce immunity to protect against COVID-19. 

This study will provide insights into how to manufacture an effective COVID-19 vaccine for use in humans, but is not intended to directly produce or test a vaccine. The same SARS-CoV-2 protein will be introduced into the cells that multiple laboratories around the world are using to learn more about COVID-19 and develop vaccine candidates and other potential treatments. This work will be performed at an appropriate laboratory biosafety level (BSL-2) by an established microbiologist.

Safety is always a top priority for the University of Pittsburgh, and we are confident that the research in question meets our stringent standards. The investigator’s proposed experiments were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee, which includes expert virologists, microbiologists and the University’s Biosafety Officer. Prior to approving this research, the committee ensured the investigator demonstrated that this attenuated strain of bacteria did not produce toxins and that the bacteria used in the studies are not contaminated with any non-attenuated bacteria that could cause disease in humans.