Researchers at MIT and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have developed a new COVID-19 vaccine, which they hope will ultimately serve as a viable option for vaccinating large parts of developing countries where access to current vaccines has been limited.
Results from animal experiments, which were published Wednesday in the journal The progress of science, showed that the vaccine produced a strong immune response in macaques. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, is a research partner on paper and is currently leading humane clinical trials in Africa.
This new vaccine is not based on the mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna, which requires storage in extremely cold temperatures and has made transportation and distribution challenging in large parts of developing countries. The Boston area scientists behind this new vaccine say it would not have the same limitation.
“This is a technology that is well-established and has a strong track record for safety,” said Chris Love of MIT and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, one of the paper’s senior authors. “But perhaps more importantly, it is also one that can be manufactured very cheaply and ultimately, if formulated correctly, can reduce some of the cold chain requirements and other challenges by distributing some of the other new technologies to vaccines that we have seen.”
“We still have an important need for cheap vaccines, which are very stable for hard-to-reach places in developing countries,” says Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who was also a senior author on paper. Barouch’s research was also central to the development of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, which also uses a technology other than mRNA.
“I think both [J&J and the new vaccine] present a good alternative to the mRNA vaccines, “Barouch told GBH News. The initial research on the new vaccine in macaques showed a comparable response to the J&J vaccine.
According to one project at the University of Oxford, which tracks global vaccination rates, over 63 percent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 14 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. In a push to expand access have protesters called for Modern and other vaccine companies to create the technology behind their COVID-19 vaccine available for production of other companies around the world.
Development of the new vaccine began in early 2020. The technology used is called a “protein-based subunit vaccine”, and involves fragments of the COVID-19 tip protein scattered around a virus-like particle that acts as a “scaffold”.
Love said that production facilities around the world already have the ability to produce vaccines using this type of technology.
“You can imagine this ball with small proteins stuck to the outside of it,” Love said. “And it kind of looks like a virus, but it’s not. It does not replicate. It’s just protein. And all parts of it are made in yeast organisms. And you can in a way imagine in the same way that beer is brewed, yeast organisms can be a very efficient way of producing the subunits required in this vaccine at an affordable price. “
He also said that the virus particles used in the vaccine may be replaced in the future with slightly different particles, allowing for a vaccine that can target new variants.