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University Of Waterloo Researchers Working On Nasal Spray COVID-19 Vaccine

It could work as "both a therapeutic and a vaccine.”
A sign for the University of Waterloo is seen here on April 29, 2019, in Waterloo, Ont. Waterloo is one of several universities in Canada working on a COVID-19 vaccine.
Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press
A sign for the University of Waterloo is seen here on April 29, 2019, in Waterloo, Ont. Waterloo is one of several universities in Canada working on a COVID-19 vaccine.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo say they are developing a new nasal spray COVID-19 vaccine that can be delivered non-invasively.

In a news release published Thursday, the public research university in southwestern Ontario says the vaccine will work by using bacteriophage, which allows it to “replicate within bacteria in the body.”

The DNA-based vaccine is being designed to work in the nasal cavity and lower respiratory tract. It would target tissues in the body to stimulate a virus-like particle (VLP) response, which would trigger an immune system response.

“When complete, our DNA-based vaccine will be administered non-invasively as a nasal spray that delivers nanomedicine engineered to immunize and decrease COVID-19 infections,” University of Waterloo Prof. Roderick Slavcev, who specializes in designing vaccines, pharmaceuticals and gene-therapy treatments, said in a statement.

Researchers say the VLP will look like the disease that causes COVID-19, but it’s actually harmless. It would bind to the same receptors that the virus targets, limiting the potential for infection. If successful, the spray will help the body in two ways: by building immunity to the virus while limiting the severity of the infection, “serving as both a therapeutic and a vaccine.”

Multiple professors and university teams are chipping in with their expertise to help with the research. The university says every aspect of the vaccine is being specifically engineered to fight COVID-19 and still must be tested.

A grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is helping fund this work, which has yet to be peer reviewed.

Earlier this week, Health Canada approved Spartan Bioscience’s portable COVID-19 test. The handheld DNA analyzer from the Ottawa-based company is the size of a cup of coffee and can produce results within an hour without relying on a laboratory. The federal government and the government of Ontario have already ordered these tests called the Spartan Cube.

Vaccine still months away

On the vaccine front, Waterloo is one of many areas in Canada where COVID-19 research is ongoing.

Vaccines are also being developed by research teams at Dalhousie University, McMaster University, the University of Alberta, Laval University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Manitoba and Western University. Companies such as Medicago, Entos Pharmaceuticals and AbCellera Biologics are also conducting research work in Canada.

In March, Quebec City-based Medicago said it could begin human trials of a vaccine as soon as July or August.

Vaccines must be properly tested in laboratories before they can be approved for human use, a process which could take months to years. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said estimates from health experts on when a new COVID-19 vaccine might be ready range from six to 18 months.

With files from Daniel Tencer and The Canadian Press

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