A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge together with the company DIOSynVax has created a next-generation coronavirus vaccine applied through a needle-free injection – a blast of air that delivers the vaccine into the skin.
The vaccine, now in clinical trials, may effectively protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and other coronaviruses.
The vaccine, known as DIOS-CoVax, was developed by Professor Jonathan Heeney and his team. It’s envisaged as a booster that targets SARS-CoV-2 and relatives that could create future pandemics. It’s delivered pain-free without a needle into the skin by using a spring-powered jet injection – a system developed by the company PharmaJet.
“Our vaccine is innovative, both in terms of how it aims to protect against the virus responsible for our current pandemic and future coronaviruses, but also in how it is delivered. If you’re someone who hates needles, our vaccine could be the answer as it’s delivered by a jet of air, not a needle,” Prof. Heeney said in a media statement
An innovative Covid-19 vaccine
SARS-CoV-2 enters host cells through 'spike' proteins on its surface that bind to ACE2 protein receptors on cells in our airways. This allows the virus to release its genetic material into the host cell and replicate, using the host cell's machinery to spread. Vaccines can address this by training our bodies to recognize and fight infections.
This is achieved by training our immune systems to identify, then block or destroy cells that carry the spike protein. However, as SARS-CoV-2 mutates, the virus spike protein changes, potentially making vaccines ineffective. To address this, the Cambridge team looked for new antigens that are the same across coronaviruses found in nature, including those in animals.
The new technology encodes antigens that mimic the wider family of coronavirus antigens using predictive methods — unlike most COVID-19 vaccines that use the RNA sequence of the virus spike protein from 2020 samples. Immune cells take up the vector, decode the antigen and give information to the immune system, producing antibodies.
“These next generation DIOSvax vaccines should protect us against variants we’ve seen so far – alpha, beta, delta variants, for example – and hopefully future-proof us against emerging variants and potential coronavirus pandemics,” Heeney said. “The vaccines target elements of the virus structure that are common to all known beta-coronaviruses.”
Researchers have already done safety trials of the vaccine at the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility in the UK, but now recruitment is being expanded to Cambridge. If trials are successful, the researchers believe the vaccine could be scaled up and manufactured to increase vaccination efforts, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Globally, there’s been over 760 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 6,908,554 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Over 13 million vaccines have been applied since the start of the pandemic. An impressive research effort was mounted in a short period of time, with several vaccines developed against the virus.