Ontario University Works On COVID-19 Vaccine

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Ontario university researchers say they are working on a DNA-based COVID-19 nasal vaccine.

Professor Roderick Slavcev of the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy said the vaccine would work using a bacteriophage, a process that allows the vaccine to replicate in bacteria already in the body. It is designed to target the tissues of the nasal cavity and lower respiratory tract, he said.

“Once completed, our DNA vaccine will be administered non-invasively as a nasal spray that delivers nanomedicines designed to immunize and reduce COVID-19 infections,” said Slavcev, who specializes in design vaccines, pharmaceuticals and gene therapy treatments.

“This research combines the expertise of many people and leverages the existing technology developed by my team, which we are reconfiguring for a COVID-19 application,” he said.
The goal of the research team is to get the vaccine into the cells of the target tissues and cause them to produce a virus-like particle – or VLP – to stimulate an immune response.

Slavcev explained that VLP will look like the structure of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), but that it is harmless.

It is this similarity that would activate the body’s natural immune response to protect itself from viral infections comparable to VLP, including SARS-CoV-2, “he said.

In addition, it would also bind to the receptors to which SARS-CoV-2 would bind, limiting the possible sites of transmission.

By causing these changes in the body, the vaccine would boost immunity to COVID-19 and decrease the severity of current infections.

That means it would serve as both a therapy and a vaccine, said Slavcev.

“Every detail of the vaccine, from ensuring that the bacteriophage targets specific cells in the airways to creating a minimal VLP to usurp the identity of SARS-CoV-2, is specifically designed by researchers and requires testing “Said the university in a statement.

Several research teams around the world are working on vaccines with estimated availability of up to 18 months.

COVID-19 drug trials by a UBC researcher were scheduled to start last week in several European locations. Professor Josef Penninger’s team said they found a test drug that blocks the cell door used by the virus to infect people with COVID-19.

The work of Waterloo is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Slavcev, his colleague professor of pharmacy Emmanuel Ho and the professor of chemical engineering Marc Aucoin.

Ho’s team is designing nanomedication to be delivered by the nasal spray, which is currently being tested, while the Aucoin laboratory builds and purifies VLP and boosts immunity after the initial administration of the therapeutic vaccine.

Slavcev’s team has completed the design of the bacteriophage delivery system and is now modifying it to apply to COVID-19.

Additional component design and further testing will take place later this year.

The university noted that the research has not yet been peer reviewed and that the information has been published as part of its commitment to contribute to Canada’s COVID-19 response.

The research components are funded by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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