WashU’s COVID-19 Nasal Vaccine Is Approved In India & WashU Licensed Technology to Ocugen in U.S.

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology

     A nasal vaccine for COVID-19 developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is on the path to becoming available in the U.S., Europe and Japan following success in India. It all started with the David Curiel, MD, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology.

    “Mucosal immunization, that is immunization by the nose, creates what’s called sterilizing immunity,” Curiel explained. “It does a better job of augmenting antibodies in the nose and the respiratory tract, and that may be important to limit transmission.”

    Curiel had long worked on using harmless deactivated adenoviruses for the delivery of gene therapies to treat cancer and other diseases. With the pandemic, the new technology in the form of a COVID-19 nasal vaccine all came together for Curiel as he worked alongside co-inventor Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, a professor of molecular microbiology and of pathology and immunology. The research team included members of the two researchers’ laboratories. Together they developed the vaccine.

    “Our agent is a simian adenovirus, that is an adenovirus from the chimpanzee, that encodes a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein antigen that’s given intranasally,” Curiel said. “Humans have antibodies against human adenovirus, and that could confound the use of vaccines derived from human adenovirus. Simian adenovirus can traverse the antibodies to human adenovirus. So, it’s a way to make the vaccine more effective for humans.”

    Since the vaccine is delivered through the nose right where the virus enters the body, Curiel said the nasal delivery route creates a more widespread immune response than an injection by destroying coronavirus already present, preventing infection and preventing transmission of COVID-19 to others.

    “It does a better job of augmenting immunity in the respiratory tract which is the place the SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks and grows.”

    Bharat Biotech in India licensed the technology from Washington University in St. Louis, then refined the delivery device and scaled up manufacturing. The vaccine was first approved for emergency use in India in September with expanded coverage as a booster in November.

    “In late November, it was also approved to be used as a booster. So now there are two approved uses of our vaccine in India,” he said.

    And now the university has licensed the technology to Ocugen, a U.S.- based biotechnology company for the development, manufacturing and commercialization of the vaccine.

    “Ocugen is working with U.S. to put together an FDA package as quickly as possible to get approval so they can do trials here towards approval, “ Curiel said.

    With the recent success, Curiel has high hopes for the nasal vaccine.

    “It may end up being an agent that’s much more user friendly, and may end up being the vaccine of choice. So, I think… stay tuned.”