Putting Covid vaccines into pills could soon move from dream to reality after a Sussex-based biotech signed an agreement with a US pharmaceutical company to test the technology in clinical trials.
Burgess Hill-based IosBio has found a way to turn injected vaccines into orally administered tablets. The technology is now being used by ImmunityBio, a Californian company developing a vaccine against Covid after signing a licensing agreement with iosBio.
Clinical trials in monkeys have shown the oral vaccine made using iosBio technology to be highly effective, while the jab version is already in phase two/three trials.
The oral vaccine will begin clinical trials on Americans this month and ImmunityBio is applying for regulatory approval to run trials in the UK.
IosBio’s technology is called OraPro. It engineers vaccines into pills that can withstand temperatures of up to 50C, allowing them to pass through the stomach and be directly absorbed into the mucous membranes.
“You catch Covid in your mucosal cells,” said Wayne Channing, chief executive of iosBio. “But with jabs you get injected into the arm which goes into the muscles and blood cells. Our tablets go straight into mucosal cells to illicit mucosal immunity so we hit the virus where it is.
“When you catch this virus you breath it in or swallow it and 80pc of your immune system cells are mucosal so we are addressing that directly. I think this will be a new paradigm in vaccination.”
Under the terms of the licensing agreement, ImmunityBio has exclusive rights to OraPro. In return, IosBio will get royalties on global sales of the approved vaccine.
“The results from the non-human primate trial were outstanding for oral and I think oral is the right strategy,” Mr Channing added.
“Patrick Soon-Shiong, the chief executive of ImmunityBio, called me and said he had woken up at 3am and thought, this should be an oral vaccine.”