Human clinical trial begins for nasal coronavirus vaccine after Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham research

The FDA allowed the vaccine testing on humans after encouraging results from the pre-clinical trial at UAB.

Posted: Feb 22, 2021 4:24 PM
Updated: Feb 23, 2021 12:50 PM

A new COVID-19 vaccine candidate is set to start its clinical trial this week.

The Altimmune vaccine is a potential game changer in the fight against the pandemic for a number of reasons. One of them being that it's not a shot. It's a nasal spray.

Credit: Altimmune

"Because respiratory infections can be transmitted through the nose, that's really where they take hold and get down further into the respiratory track, intranasal vaccine just makes a lot of sense to block the infection of the site of introduction," Dr. Sarah Browne with Altimmune said.

The vaccine would not only block COVID-19 from entering your body. Researchers say it would also stop it from coming out, protecting you and others from transmission.

"The more you can prevent transmission. The more quickly you can reduce the virus infection in the community, and the more quickly you can help to control the pandemic," the lead researcher of the pre-clinical trial at UAB Dr. Frances Lund said.

During that trial, animals were given high doses of COVID-19; then, given the nasal vaccine. Dr. Lund says those animals were not only able to neutralize the virus in their bodies, but also had an additional layer of protection in their nose and upper respiratory system.

Something Altimmune refers to as mucosal immunity. The company's senior director for vaccine development says it helps stop transmission. It's something that's been seen in other needle-free vaccines for other viruses like the flu and even polio.

"The injectible version prevents disease, but doesn't prevent infection or transmission. That's because polio infects the gut. Whereas with oral polio vaccine, that really generates that mucosal immunity that is used in places where there's still polio virus in circulation because of that critical issue of preventing transmission," Dr. Browne said.

Dr. Lund says immunity in animals lasted around 6 months with one dose. Altimmune is hoping to have similar results in people as it begins its Phase 1 trial. The clinical trial is expected to last anywhere from 6 months to a full year.

"That's out of an abundance of caution to make sure there aren't any real serious safety events that occur further out from vaccination," Dr. Browne said.

Another element that makes Altimmune's vaccine unique is that it can remain stable at room temperature, meaning no need for freezers or keeping it cool like the vaccines we have now.

"It at least brings another tool to the tool box for thinking about vaccinating the whole world. Are the other vaccines very good? Absolutely! Is this going to replace those vaccines? No, but it will be an addition to those vaccines, and it may be useful in areas where those other vaccines really aren't practical," Dr. Lund said.

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