Chinese pharma company is starting trials of an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine

On Sunday, Chinese firm CanSino Biologics announced that it will start clinical trials for an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine next week.

“We think [inhaled] immunization is very effective for airborne diseases,” Yu Xuefeng, chairman and CEO of Beijing-based CanSino Biologics, told CNBC on Sunday at China’s Boao Forum. Yu explained that inhaling the COVID-19 vaccine may offer a more potent and quicker form of protection by activating antibodies in the airways where people catch the disease.

“When the virus comes into the airway, you already have a layer of antibody, or T memory cells, which could be quickly activated…That’s why we are going through a mucosal route for immunization,” Yu said to CNBC.

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The planned nasal spray trials will mark CanSino’s entrance into a small but growing contingent of global vaccine makers that believe that nasal sprays may represent a less intrusive and more effective means of inducing COVID-19 immunity.

Global trials

Beijing originally approved CanSino’s inhaled vaccine trial in late March, making it the only Chinese COVID-19 vaccine maker with a green light to conduct nasal spray trials.

Yu said Sunday that his team developed the inhaled vaccine based on technology that CanSino previously explored while conducting research for an inhaled tuberculosis vaccine as well as its own needle-injected COVID vaccine.

CanSino developed its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with the Chinese military’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences. The vaccine is 68.83% effective in preventing symptomatic cases of the virus, according to an interim analysis of CanSino’s global trials, and has been approved for distribution in China, Chile, Hungary, Mexico, and Pakistan.

With the planned trials of its inhaled immunization, CanSino is now one of several firms globally that is exploring the nasal route of inoculation.

Last September, Chinese regulators green-lit the first trial for a nasal spray vaccine that was developed by researchers at Hong Kong University, Xiamen University, and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise. In March, Hong Kong University announced that it had concluded Phase I/II in China and is now recruiting volunteers for a second Phase I trial in Hong Kong.

Elsewhere, India’s Bharat Biotech announced in early March that it was launching a nasal vaccine trial using similar technology to its COVID-19 jab Covaxin, which is 80.6% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.

The University of Oxford announced later that month that it is launching a trial for its own nasal spray vaccine based on the COVID-19 vaccine it developed in partnership with U.K. pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

“There are a variety of people who will find an intranasal delivery system more appealing, which may mean vaccine uptake is higher in those groups,” Dr. Sandy Douglas, chief investigator of Oxford’s nasal spray study, said in a statement about the trial. He noted that nasal sprays have been used effectively for other vaccines such as those for the flu.

Researchers in Turkey and Iran are also trialing their own versions of COVID-19 vaccine nasal sprays.

CanSino’s needle jab

Last week, CanSino brushed off concerns that its needle-administered COVID vaccine may be plagued by similar blood clot issues that led to pauses in the rollout of J&J’s vaccine in the U.S. and AstraZeneca’s jabs in Europe. CanSino uses similar adenovirus-based technology for its jab.

“No blood clot–related serious adverse events have been reported in around 1 million vaccinations of Ad5-nCoV,” CanSino said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange on April 14. In the statement, CanSino also explained that its vaccine targets a different vector than the AstraZeneca and J&J jabs and may therefore not induce the same side effect.

In addition to its planned nasal trial, CanSino has also been involved in other strategies to boost COVID-19 immunity beyond its main jab.

CanSino recently launched a trial with China’s Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical to test if giving volunteers one shot of each firm’s vaccine could help improve protection against COVID-19, according to Reuters.

In February, CanSino was also reportedly in discussions with the state-backed Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is marketing the Sputnik V vaccine, to conduct a similar mixed trial.

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