Scientists develop second-generation COVID-19 vaccine taken nasally

GALVESTON—Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Catholic University of America (CUA) have developed a possible needle-free COVID-19 vaccine delivered through the nose.

As scientists race to create the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines, this UTMB/CUA research in mice adds new possibilities for fighting the disease in humans in the future. Nasal vaccination induces another type of an immune response which can effectively kill the pathogen at the port of entry, which is the respiratory tract for SARS-CoV-2.  No injections are needed, and the vaccine can be delivered in a nasal spray.  

Dr. Ashok Chopra, a microbiology and immunology professor and the John S. Dunn Distinguished Chair in Global Health as well as a senior scientist at Sealy Center for Vaccine Development at UTMB, and Dr. Venigalla Rao, a biology professor and director of Bacteriophage Medical Research Center at CUA, were the lead scientists on the study published July 28 in mBio, an American Society for Microbiology journal. 

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are injected into muscle tissue in two or more doses. They are effective in preventing COVID-19, but they do not induce efficient immunity in the mucous lining or prevent viral transmission. This nasal vaccine showed advantages in the UTMB/CUA study.

“The nasal vaccine does not seem to affect the gut microbiota and is more potent in generating systemic and mucosal immune responses than when the vaccine is injected into the muscle of mice,” Chopra said.

Researchers studied the effects of this vaccine in mice, specifically the one which bears the human receptor ACE2 to which SARS-CoV-2—which causes COVID-19—binds. 

“Second generation COVID-19 vaccines are needed that are built using an entirely different platform compared to the current FDA-approved vaccines,” Rao said. “This is needed because it could help in preventing infections of vaccinated humans and also prevent infected populations shedding the virus.”

The platform used for this study is a virus-like nanoparticle—bacteriophage T4.  This platform can be adapted to generate vaccines to any emerging epidemic or pandemic pathogen.

The research shows this vaccine is stable and has many advantages in combating the disease, but future research is needed on other animal models and would also require human trials.

“These efforts are underway and crucial since more than 10 billion doses of vaccines are needed across the globe, particularly in middle- to low-income countries, where the affordability of the current vaccines is a big concern,” Chopra said.