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McMaster researchers will test out a new inhaled COVID vaccine

McMaster researchers will test out a new inhaled COVID vaccine

Human trials are set to begin for two next-generation COVID-19 vaccines developed by a team of scientists at McMaster University.

Both are designed to combat variants of concern and will be delivered by inhaled aerosol, not by injection, and will target the lungs and upper airways, where respiratory infections begin.

Study participants who have previously received two doses of a COVID mRNA vaccine, such as BioNTech Pfizer or Moderna, will receive a booster as part of the clinical trial.

As the pandemic transitions into an endemic phase, researchers around the world have been racing to develop more efficient vaccines to follow the first generation of emergency vaccines that were designed to stem the initial spread of COVID-19.

The new McMaster vaccines, are designed to also target other parts of the virus that do not change or mutate. Activating the immune system against three different proteins, rather than one, should provide better protection against variants of concern, the researchers say.

“It is critical to continue research on new forms of COVID vaccines that work in a different way and could be used to boost immunity in people who have already been vaccinated,” says Fiona Smaill, a professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster who is leading the clinical trial.

“By targeting a breadth of immune responses to different parts of the COVID virus, we expect to see broader protection,” she says.

The inhaled delivery concept draws on two decades of research and development on a tuberculosis vaccine led by Zhou Xing, a co-principal investigator and professor in the Department of Medicine and McMaster Immunology Research Centre.

“Our vaccine strategy differs from all of the current first-generation COVID-19 vaccines in the route of delivery. Ours gets delivered into the lung via inhaled aerosol to induce respiratory mucosal immunity, known to provide best protection against respiratory pathogens,” Xing says.

The vaccines were produced at McMaster’s Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory, one of a very few facilities in Canada with the capacity to develop and produce viral vector vaccines for clinical trials. The laboratory and the researchers are part of McMaster’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats.

At least 30 healthy volunteers will take part in the study, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. If Phase 1 is successful, the team has manufactured sufficient vaccine doses to move forward with much larger clinical trials, which could potentially lead to broader use, the researchers say.

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