McMaster University in Hamilton to start human trials of aerosol COVID-19 vaccine booster

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Published December 7, 2021 at 8:51 am

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton (not pictured) will soon begin human trials of two inhaled aerosol next generation COVID-19 vaccine boosters. — Stock photo

Researchers at McMaster University have been given the green light from Health Canada to start human trials for two next-generation COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

The new vaccines, which are designed to combat variants of concern, will be delivered by inhaled aerosol, not by injection, and will target the lungs and upper airways, where respiratory infections begin.

“It is critical to continue research on new forms of COVID vaccines that work in a different way and could be used to boost immunity in people who have already been vaccinated,” said Fiona Smaill, a professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster who is leading the trial.

“By targeting a breadth of immune responses to different parts of the COVID virus, we expect to see broader protection.”

The new McMaster vaccines, which researchers say express three different SARS-CoV-2 proteins, including the distinctive spike protein, are designed to also target other parts of the virus that do not change or mutate.

The current COVID-19 vaccines target only the spike protein.

Activating the immune system against three different proteins, rather than one, should provide better protection against variants of concern, the researchers say.

The trials come at a pivotal time in the pandemic as the Omicron variant of COVID-19, identified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern, continues to spread across the globe. Early research shows that Omicron has several mutations that may affect how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.

The aerosol inhalation delivery concept draws on decades of research and development on a tuberculosis vaccine led by Zhou Xing, a co-principal investigator and professor in the Department of Medicine and McMaster Immunology Research Centre.

“Our vaccine strategy differs from all of the current first-generation COVID-19 vaccines in the route of delivery,” Xing said.

“Ours gets delivered into the lung via inhaled aerosol to induce respiratory mucosal immunity, known to provide best protection against respiratory pathogens.”

Study participants who have previously received two doses of a COVID mRNA vaccine, such as BioNTech Pfizer or Moderna, will receive a booster as part of the clinical trial.

At least 30 healthy volunteers will take part in the study, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

If Phase 1 is successful, the team has manufactured sufficient vaccine doses to move forward with much larger clinical trials, which could potentially lead to broader use, the researchers say.

To learn more about the research and McMaster’s role in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the university’s website.

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