A low-cost covid-19 vaccine developed in a lead role by Austrian researchers working in New York is proving promising. Subjects in Thailand built up comparably high antibody levels in a clinical trial after administration of the new vector vaccine, “NDV-HXP-S,” as did people who received the Biontech-Pfizer vaccine. The analysis has now been presented in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Classic pathway for affordable vaccine
The team from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, led by Peter Palese, a native of Upper Austria, Austrian virologist Florian Krammer and Adolfo Garcia-Sastre’s research group, set out early in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic to develop a vaccine that would cost less than a dollar per dose. To do so, the scientists chose a classic vaccine development and manufacturing route.
“NDV-HXP-S” is a vaccine in which a version of the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen is delivered into the body via a different virus. For their vector vaccine, the researchers use the “Newcastle disease virus” (NDV), which causes atypical avian influenza primarily in chickens but is not dangerous to humans.
It can be administered via the nose.
The vaccine, which can also be administered nasally, has been tested for some time in the USA, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and Brazil. The scientists write in the paper that tests are underway with two vaccine variants, one live and one with inactivated, modified NDV viruses.
210 study participants in Thailand
In the Phase I study in Thailand, 210 volunteers received either the inactivated vaccine or a placebo. The scientists then analyzed the participants’ blood for antibody levels and compared it to those vaccinated with the Biontech-Pfizer vaccine in New York.
The number of antibodies and SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing activity in the blood of those vaccinated with the “NDV-HXP-S” vaccine was “comparable” to those who received the Biontech-Pfizer mRNA vaccine, according to further analysis of the clinical trial, according to researchers led by study first author Juan Manuel Carreño.
“Very focused immune response”
The antibodies built up by the new vaccine largely pounced on the receptor-binding domain, the region on the spike protein that the virus uses to dock with human cells. The vaccine thus brings a “very focused immune response” in contrast to the immune response built up with mRNA vaccines, in which antibodies dock to multiple spike protein regions.
Easy to produce
The major advantage of the vaccine, he said, is that it can be produced in chicken eggs, as are most influenza vaccines. Because this type of product is less costly than mRNA vaccines, the “NDV-HXP-S” vaccine can be produced more easily in less developed countries.
Favourable for less developed countries
The lower cost also makes the vaccine attractive to countries with lower average incomes, as Palese and Krammer have repeatedly pointed out. Especially in economically less developed countries, the availability of affordable Corona vaccines is often still not good, they said. “NDV-HXP-S” could provide a remedy here.
Another plus, he said, is the option for nasal administration, which should result in better protection in the upper respiratory tract and less virus transmission. In addition, the vaccine does not need to be stored frozen, the scientists write.
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