Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have developed a potential vaccine administered by a fingertip-sized patch to neutralize the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
A scientific paper about the vaccine candidate known as PittCoVacc — Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine — is being published Thursday by EBioMedicine, which is part of the renowned British medical journal The Lancet. PittCoVacc has been tested already in mice by Pitt scientists and created antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 within two weeks of delivery by a microneedle prick, according to Pitt. And while long-term studies haven’t been possible yet due to the speed of the pandemic, the study suggests antibody levels could be sufficient to squelch the virus for at least a year.
But it’s not an immediate vaccine to stop the spread of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has infected nearly 1 million people worldwide and has killed thousands in the United States alone. Pitt is applying for approval for an investigational new drug with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and hopes to start a phase-one clinical trial in the next several months. The testing phase would take at least a year and maybe more, according to Dr. Louis Falo, chair of dermatology at the Pitt school of medicine and UPMC who is also a co-senior author.
PittCoVacc works essentially the way flu shots do, using viral proteins that are made in the lab to build immunity. It’s built on previous work Pitt has done for previous SARS viruses, which are related to the current SARS-CoV-2. It differs from an mRNA vaccine made by Moderna that began clinical trials in Seattle. Pitt said it can be mass produced and be stored at room temperature until use.
“For most vaccines, you don’t need to address scalability to begin with,” said Dr. Andrea Gambotto, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-senior author on the study. “But when you try to develop a vaccine quickly against a pandemic that’s the first requirement.”
Pitt has also used a high-tech delivery system, a microneedle array, that includes a Band-Aid-type patch with 400 small needles that put the vaccine into the skin. The needles dissolve into the skin.
“It’s actually pretty painless, it feels kind of like Velcro,” Falo said.
Additional authors on the study are Eun Kim, Geza Erdos, Ph.D., Shaohua Huang, Thomas Kenniston, Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., Cara Donahue Carey, Michael Epperly, Ph.D., William Klimstra, Ph.D., and Emrullah Korkmaz, Ph.D., all of Pitt; and Bart Haagmans, of Erasmus Medical Center.