Researchers at Stanford are working to develop a single dose vaccine for COVID-19 that could potentially be stored at room temperature.
Before the pandemic, the lab of Stanford University biochemist Peter S. Kim focused on developing vaccines for HIV, Ebola and pandemic influenza. However, within days of closing their campus lab space as part of COVID-19 precautions, they turned their attention to a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Their vaccine, detailed in a paper published in ACS Central Science, contains nanoparticles studded with the same proteins that comprise the virus’s distinctive surface spikes.
These spikes facilitate infection by fusing to a host cell and creating a passageway for the viral genome to enter and hijack the cell’s machinery to produce more viruses. The spikes can also be used as antigens, which means their presence in the body is what can trigger an immune response.
Initial tests in mice suggest that the Stanford nanoparticle vaccine could produce COVID-19 immunity after just one dose.
Kim said: “Our goal is to make a single-shot vaccine that does not require a cold-chain for storage or transport.
“The target population for our vaccine is low- and middle-income countries.”
The researchers are hopeful that it could be stored at room temperature and are investigating whether it could be shipped and stored in a freeze-dried, powder form.
Abigail Powell, a former postdoctoral scholar in the Kim lab and lead author of the paper, said: “This is really early stage and there is still lots of work to be done, but we think it is a solid starting point for what could be a single-dose vaccine regimen that doesn’t rely on using a virus to generate protective antibodies following vaccination.
“Everybody had a lot of time and energy to devote to the same scientific problem. It is a very unique scenario. I don’t really expect I’ll ever encounter that in my career again.”
Kim added: “Vaccines are one of the most profound achievements of biomedical research. They are an incredibly cost-effective way to protect people against disease and save lives.
“This coronavirus vaccine is part of work we’re already doing – developing vaccines that are historically difficult or impossible to develop, like an HIV vaccine – and I’m glad that we’re in a situation where we could potentially bring something to bear if the world needs it.”
The researchers are continuing to improve and fine-tune their vaccine candidate, with the intention of moving it closer to initial clinical trials in humans.