Innovative made-in-Singapore serological assay, which detects antibodies that neutralise the SARs-CoV-2 virus, will be deployed in collaborative research to gain insights on long-term immune responses to vaccination and infection, and the efficacy of different COVID-19 vaccines.

Duke-NUS Medical School today announced plans to collaborate with Brunei’s Ministry of Health and Universiti Brunei Darussalam on a project, funded by Temasek Foundation,that will compare the long-term immune response to vaccination and infection, and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. Using the surrogate virus neutralisation test (sVNT) invented by Duke-NUS scientists, the project will measure neutralising antibodies (nAbs) in 3,000 fully vaccinated individuals in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.

Blood samples will be collected to test for nAbs that bind specifically to the receptor binding domain of the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These nAbs block viral entry into host cells and are highly predictive of immune protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection. The research data from the project can be used to infer the level of herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2, based on the level of neutralising antibodies in the vaccinated individuals. If vaccine breakthrough occurs in the vaccinated individuals, the project will also provide insights on the correlation of protection against infection.

Results from the study will then be used to inform public health policymakers involved in enacting COVID-19 control strategies, such as travel policies and green lane arrangements, determining optimum length of quarantine periods for travellers, and whether to mandate booster vaccines for individuals with low levels of nAbs.

Professor Wang Linfa, from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, and his research team invented the sVNT assay, which can detect and measure SARS-CoV-2-specific nAbs in human sera following infection or vaccination, without the need for complex equipment or biohazardous material.

Prof Wang said, “This project with Brunei’s Ministry of Health and Universiti Brunei Darussalam extends our collaborative efforts with the goal to develop research to better inform health policies as part of COVID-19 recovery. We believe the results will be scientifically important, and have great public health value in the region, and globally, by determining the level of herd immunity to COVID-19 within a vaccinated population.”

“This collaboration with Brunei’s Ministry of Health is a natural extension of the work Temasek Foundation has been involved in for many years in Singapore and the wider region,” said Benedict Cheong, Chief Executive, Temasek Foundation International. “The next, as yet unknown crisis, or ‘Crisis X’ as we call it, could be a major threat to lives and livelihoods of communities in Singapore and the region as a whole. By promoting dialogue, exchange and collaboration, we gain a better understanding of the threats, and the collective learning through research and data sharing among key stakeholders from across the region will allow us to enhance our preparedness and readiness.”

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean, Duke-NUS Medical School, said, “We are excited that technology invented at Duke-NUS is benefitting not just Singapore but countries around the region. Understanding the immune response to vaccination and infection will be critical to driving strategies across Asia in transitioning to endemic COVID-19 without overwhelming healthcare systems."