Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say they have made progress on a vaccine that is quickly effective and producible on a large scale to help stem the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The vaccine, PittCoVacc, is delivered through a fingertip-size patch made of 400 tiny needles that deliver spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest.
When tested in mice, the vaccine produced antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be enough for neutralizing the virus, researchers reported in the journal eBioMedicine on April 2, 2020.
“We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, MD, associate professor of surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a press release.
The patch is applied like a Band-Aid and the needles that deliver the vaccine-made of sugar and protein pieces-dissolve into the skin, making it easier to mass produce and store with no need for refrigeration.
“For most vaccines, you don’t need to address scalability to begin with,” said Gambotto in the press release. “But when you try to develop a vaccine quickly against a pandemic that’s the first requirement.”
The authors are now in the process of applying for an investigational new drug approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to hopefully start a phase I human clinical trial in the coming months.
Researchers cannot definitively say whether PittCoVacc produces long-lasting protection from COVID-19, but a similar vaccine they made against MERS-CoV produced enough antibodies in mice to protect them for a year.
The antibody levels they have tracked in the mice receiving PittCoVacc are following a similar trend, the researchers said.
“Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal,” said co-senior author Louis Falo, MD, PhD, professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in the same press release.