The wait for a potential vaccine for the coronavirus could be near. Researchers and scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have reportedly developed a vaccine against COVID-19, something that started back in Jan. 21, 2020.
The said vaccine was tested in mice and delivered through a fingertip-sized patch. The paper, which appeared on EBioMedicine and published by Lancet, produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities that are sufficient to neutralize the virus. Though most have been informed that a vaccine could take years to develop, the researchers were able to act swiftly since they had already started laying the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics.
“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,” co-senior author Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC, said.
The experimental vaccine just ended clinical trials and will be called PittCoVacc, short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine. It was made using lab pieces of viral protein to build immunity and work in the same way as flu shots work.
To administer the drug, researchers used a novel approach called as a microneedle array to increase potency. This was done through a finger-tip sized patch comprised of 400 needles that will help spike proteins in the skin. To illustrate, it is like applying band-aid with needles made entirely of sugar and protein pieces that eventually dissolve into the skin. Falo assures that administering it is painless and feels something like velcro.
Also, the system is highly scalable. Protein pieces are manufactured by a cell factory composed of layers upon layers of cultured cells intended to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, UPMC.com reported. Purification can be done at an industrial scale while mass producing them involves spinning down the protein-sugar mixture via the aid of a centrifuge. It can also stay in a room temperature area after manufacturing, lessening the need to have refrigeration during storage or when in transit.
The authors of the PittCoVacc are now applying for investigational new drug approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with hopes of starting clinical trials on humans in the coming months.
“Testing in patients would typically require at least a year and probably longer,” Falo said. “This particular situation is different from anything we’ve ever seen, so we don’t know how long the clinical development process will take. Recently announced revisions to the normal processes suggest we may be able to advance this faster.”