St. Louis scientist developing ‘no shot’ COVID-19 vaccine

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ST. LOUIS, Mo- A St. Louis scientist and doctor is pioneering a new Covid-19 vaccine decades after his work helped lead to the COVID-19 vaccines people are getting now.

More than 25 years ago, the work of Dr. David Curiel, a virologist and radiation oncologist with the Washington University School of Medicine, laid the foundation for the current COVID-19 vaccines.

Now, he’s working on something a new: a COVID-19 vaccine that doesn’t require a shot.

The new vaccine uses the common cold virus called adenovirus. It works by taking advantage of the very things that make the common cold so common.

“(Adenovirus) is evolved to infect the respiratory mucosa, the nose and the lungs,” Dr. Curiel said. “That’s what it’s very good at doing. So, we’ve engineered it to carry the Sars-Covid2 spike gene…it not only protects against infection as the other vaccines do but seems to sterilize the upper airways which may be advantageous in terms of limiting the spread of the infection.”

It’s a single-dose, nasal vaccine. Think of flu “mists” which gained prevalence for vaccinating children years ago.

It’s more stable with no extreme cold storage requirement like current vaccines, he said, so it has a longer “shelf-life”.

Dr. Curiel also has a company called Precision Virologics, which developed the vaccine in St. Louis’s blossoming biotech corridor. His company has partnered with Bharat Biotech in India, where phase 1 human trials have begun, he said.

He hopes to see U.S. trials, possibly in St. Louis, by Spring. Widespread use could come by early next year if the vaccine proves effective, he said.

For now, he recommends the current vaccines. He’s been injected with one of them.

They were actually developed from his breakthrough work in 1995 – which used messenger RNA as a delivery system.

“I came up with the idea of using RNA. I said, ‘let’s use an RNA transcript and use that as the polynucleotide vaccine.’ it worked spectacularly,” he said. “I think right now they work but down the line there may be something that provides longer immunity with fewer doses and that’s easier to administer.”

His new adenovirus vaccine may fit the bill.

His team is already working on new versions to expand its potential, Dr. Curiel said.

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