WASHINGTON (AP) – US researchers have opened another safety test for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which uses a deep skin injection instead of the usual deeper jab.
The pinch should look like a simple skin test, a volunteer researcher lying on an examination table in Kansas City, Missouri, said on Wednesday.
“This is the most important test we have ever done,” said Dr. John Ervin of the Center for Pharmaceutical Research at the Associated Press. “People are beating the door to enter this trial. “
The experiment, using a candidate vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is part of a global hunt for much-needed protection against a virus that has triggered an economic shutdown and forced people inside as countries try to stem spread.
A different vaccine candidate started human safety testing in Seattle last month, one developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. About two-thirds of the study participants received the first of the two doses required.
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The Inovio study is expected to test two doses of its vaccine, named INO-4800, in 40 healthy volunteers from the Kansas City Research Laboratory and the University of Pennsylvania. Inovio is working with Chinese researchers to soon begin a similar study in this country.
These early stage studies are a first step to see if a vaccine seems safe enough for the larger tests needed to prove it will protect. Even if the research goes well, it would take more than a year before a vaccine becomes widely available.
Dozens of potential vaccines are being designed in laboratories around the world, which are expected to begin this testing process in the coming months.
“The good thing is that we have a bunch of applicants,” NIH chief infectious disease director Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday in a podcast for the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Most vaccines in development have the same goal: a cutting-edge protein that closes the surface of the virus and helps it invade human cells. However, many operate in very different ways, which makes it crucial to test different options.
Inovio researchers packaged a section of the virus’s genetic code into a piece of synthetic DNA. When injected as a vaccine, the cells act like a mini-factory to produce copies of harmless proteins. The immune system produces protective antibodies against them, which are triggered if the real virus occurs.
Inovio’s chief research and development officer, Kate Broderick, likens this to giving the body a poster wanted by the FBI so that it can recognize the enemy.
But after the skin injection, the researchers must keep a device on site that gives a small electric zap. Synthetic DNA is important when it comes to getting into human cells, and the pulse helps the vaccine get in more easily and get to work, said Broderick.
DNA vaccines are a new technology. But Inovio has experimental vaccines against other diseases that are manufactured in the same way that have passed the initial safety tests.
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And at least one has shown that penetrating deep into the skin somehow speeds up the immune system’s development of protective antibodies, said PA Pablo Tebas of the University of Pennsylvania. Tebas is leading this latest new COVID-19 study.
The NIH candidate vaccine, manufactured by Moderna Inc., works the same way, except that it uses a type of genetic code called messenger RNA and is injected deeper – into the muscle.
Neither the potential NIH nor Inovio vaccines are made using the real virus, which means there is no chance of getting infected with the vaccines – and it is possible to do this much faster than traditional injections.
AP video producer Kathy Young contributed to this report.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.