A new potential vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease, has been developed by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, according to a press release from the University of Pittsburgh.
A peer-reviewed study on the vaccine was published in eBioMedicine.
The vaccine, which is called PittCoVacc (short for Pittsburgh CoronaVirus Vaccine), would work the same way as the seasonal flu shot, but with a high-tech delivery. It uses strands of viral protein made in the lab to build up immunity — which is how the flu shot vaccine works — but instead of injecting them via one needle, it delivers them through a fingertip-sized patch that has 400 microneedles made of sugar and the protein pieces. With this unique design, the tiny needles would dissolve into the person's skin.
According to the study's authors, the patch increases the potency of the protein pieces and gets them right into the skin, where the immune response is said to be the strongest. The method is relatively painless, according to Louis Falo, one of the study's co-senior authors. The patch is applied like an adhesive bandage, and in the press release Falo said it feels "kind of like Velcro."
When tested in mice, the researchers discovered that the vaccine generated a surge of antibodies, an immune response that neutralizes the virus, within two weeks of getting the vaccine.
The swift creation of this potential vaccine came from the team's past research on other coronaviruses.
"We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014," co-senior author Andrea Gambotto said in the press release about the project. "These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus."
As a result, the research team was able to identify this particular protein quickly.
The University of Pittsburgh's press release said the vaccine is "highly scalable," an encouraging factor for a potential vaccine because of the pandemic's current magnitude and swift progression.
The study's authors hope to start a phase I human clinical trial in the coming months if they receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.