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Coronavirus

Scared of needles? Inhalable COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in new study

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An inhalable COVID-19 vaccine has shown great promise in protecting the lungs against the coronavirus in a new study.

Researchers from the US’ North Carolina State University created the inhalable vaccine that is shelf-stable at room temperature for up to three months and specifically works to target the lungs and can be self-administrated through an inhaler.

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Although a number of vaccine shots have already been approved in the US and across the world, the research team sought to explore this method to bypass some challenges when delivering a vaccine through the muscles via an injection.

“First, taking the vaccine via intramuscular shot is less efficient at getting it into the pulmonary system, and so can limit its efficacy. Inhaled vaccines would increase their benefit against COVID-19,” Ke Cheng, a Randall B. Terry Jr. Distinguished Professor in Regenerative Medicine at NC State, said in a statement.

“Second, mRNA vaccines in their current formulation require cold storage and trained medical personnel to deliver them. A vaccine that is stable at room temperature and that could be self-administered would greatly reduce wait times for patients as well as stress on the medical profession during a pandemic. However, reformulating the delivery mechanism is necessary for it to work through inhalation,” he explained.

The inhaler delivers the vaccine directly to the lungs by using a lung-derived exosome called LSC-Exo – nanosized vesicles that have recently been recognized as an excellent means of drug delivery – to serve as a protein or mRNA cargo.

In a paper in the Extracellular Vesicle journal, the researchers demonstrated that lung-derived nanoparticles were more effective at delivering mRNA and protein cargo to bronchioles and deep lung tissue than synthetic liposome particles.

Using a rodent model, the researchers then tested the inhalable, protein-based, virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine with a portion containing the spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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“Vaccines can work through various means. For example, mRNA vaccines deliver a script to your cell that instructs it to produce antibodies to the spike protein. This VLP vaccine, on the other hand, introduces a portion of the spike protein to the body, triggering the immune system to produce antibodies to the spike protein.

The inhalable vaccine produced antibodies that could detect the virus. After two doses, the antibodies protected the rodents when exposed to COVID-19.

Even though the results have been promising thus far, there are some potential issues that could arise when scaling up production and purification of exosomes.

“An inhalable vaccine will confer both mucosal and systemic immunity, it’s more convenient to store and distribute, and could be self-administered on a large scale,” said Cheng.

“So while there are still challenges associated with scaling up production, we believe that this is a promising vaccine worthy of further research and development.”

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