“We are continuing to work very hard,” Zeichner said. “Since those early results, we have been systemically testing how we can best administer the vaccine, either orally, intranasally or intramuscularly, and how we can optimize the immune response with different versions of the pieces of the viruses that are used get the body to make an effective immune response against the virus.”
Zeichner and Meng are also in talks with the World Health Organization’s International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea, which is charged with making vaccines available around the world, particularly in disadvantaged countries or for potentially pandemic diseases.
“Once we get our process established, we will send materials to them so that they can scale it up and do more advanced trials, hopefully including human trials,” Zeichner said.
How It Works
The vaccine Zeichner and Meng are working on is a killed whole-cell vaccine. To make it, the researchers use a new platform Zeichner invented to rapidly develop vaccines, which involves synthesizing the DNA that directs the production of a piece of the COVID-19 virus.
The synthesized DNA, which can instruct the immune system in how to mount a protective response, is inserted into a common bacteria, usually E. coli, that is grown in a fermenter, much like the machines used in breweries. The DNA instructs the bacteria to place pieces of protein on cell surfaces. Those antigens form the basis of the vaccine. Importantly, the proteins are placed on the surfaces of bacteria that have had many of their genes deleted, including genes that are responsible for the production of other proteins that are on the surface of the bacteria. This makes the vaccine antigen much more visible to the immune system. Scientists then kill the bacteria, which now function as the vaccine.