By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
As the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to gain approval, more are coming! This may include a nasal spray, not an injection.
“It may take some time for the best to emerge,” said David T. Curiel, MD, PhD, professor of radiation oncology for Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Curiel and his team believe the vaccine they developed in St. Louis produces a superior immune response compared to the ones quickly gaining approval first. It’s a nasal vaccine that’s now produced by academic spinoff Precision Virologics with Curiel as Interim CEO. The intranasal vaccine proved successful in mouse studies.
Viral immunologist Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, is Scientific Advisor for Precision Virologics. Diamond is professor of molecular microbiology, and of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Diamond and Curiel found that mice given a single dose of the intranasal vaccine were fully protected from SARS-CoV-2.
“It sterilized the upper respiratory tract so it appeared to have a better ability to provide immunity at the sites relevant to infection”, said Curiel. “This finding may be important to preventing the spread of the virus. And that is what’s so important in a pandemic agent like this.”
Precision Virologics is supported by BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL. Curiel’s intranasal COVID-19 vaccine would be delivered in one dose through the nose, which he said makes it superior to the intramuscular injections expected to gain approval first.
“You lean your head back and take a spray, so it’s quite easy,” he explained.
The vaccine research shows how the nasal delivery route creates a more widespread immune response than an injection. In mouse studies, the vaccine destroys any coronavirus already present and prevents infection in the nose and lungs. The research suggests that vaccinated individuals would not develop infections elsewhere in the body or spread the virus to others.
To develop the vaccine, Curiel’s team takes the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that the virus uses to invade cells and inserts it inside another virus, called an adenovirus.
“The adenovirus is a common cold virus,” explained Curiel. “I’ve worked on adenovirus for 30 years. I’m the most published, the most cited author in this virus. I’m the biggest fan of this virus and I knew its attributes.”
Curiel said his vaccine is working when other adenovirus vaccines are not because he is using a version of the adenovirus that infects chimpanzees as many people have immunity to the human adenovirus.
Precision Virologics and vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech in India obtained rights for this novel chimp-adenovirus vaccine for COVID-19. Precision has obtained rights for USA, Europe, and Japan. Bharat Biotech has obtained a license for all other markets and is pursuing clinical trials in India.
Precision Virologics plans to use Saint Louis University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit to conduct phase one trials, the first step before advancing clinical trials. Curiel hopes to begin human trials in early 2021 and hopes for the vaccine to be widely available by late next year.