University of Waterloo researchers developing COVID-19 vaccine delivered by nasal spray

KITCHENER --
Researchers from the University of Waterloo are working on a COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered through nasal spray, and used to both treat and immunize against the virus.

While there is still plenty of testing left to be done and the work has not been peer-reviewed, the non-invasive vaccine is being designed to both treat and immunize against the virus.

A news release from the university says it will work by using what's called bacteriophage, a process that allows a vaccine to replicate in bacteria that's already in the body.

Roderick Slavcev, a professor in the School of Pharmacy, specializes in designing vaccines. He says that, when complete, the nasal spray will deliver "nanomedicine engineered to immunize and decrease COVID-19 infections."

The school says the vaccine will actually serve two purposes: it will build immunity to the virus, and decrease the severity of an infection if someone has one.

Researchers say the DNA-based vaccine will enter cells to produce what's called a VLP, or a virus-like particle, that will look like SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, but will be harmless.

That, they say, is what's expected to stimulate an immune response to the virus.

The vaccine, which targets the nasal passage and lower respiratory tract, will also bind to receptors that the virus usually latches onto, leaving the virus with fewer sites for transmission.

The process of creating the vaccine is not a simple one: two other teams are also helping with its development.

Slavcev has teamed up with another School of Pharmacy professor, Dr. Emmanuel Ho, and chemical engineering professor Marc Aucoin.

Ho's team is designing the nanomedication delivered by the spray, while Aucoin's team is constructing the VLP and boosting immunity.

"It is the collaborative effort of our talented teams that makes this multidisciplinary project so feasible and necessarily efficient as a potential universal vaccine solution against SARS-CoV infections," says Slavcev in a news release.

"To practice science with such urgency alongside such talented colleagues and their students is not only immensely educational, it is extremely rewarding."

Because every element is being specifically designed, it still requires testing. Researchers are hoping to have the pre-clinical work done by the end of April 2021, but say they're working with a pair of companies to try and expedite the trials and regulatory requirements.

Once again, the research has not yet been peer-reviewed. The University of Waterloo says it is releasing it in an effort to help inform Canada's response to COVID-19.

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