For those cringing at the thought of getting jabbed with a COVID-19 vaccine out there, relief will soon come in the form of a pill.
The fact is more drugs are needed to fight a pandemic that has infected over 120 million people and killed 2.7 million worldwide.
There are 246 antivirals in development, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, an industry trade group.
Today, 11 vaccines worldwide have been granted emergency use authorization or given full approval. Another 251 COVID-19 vaccines are at some stage of development.
As of March 19, 410 million people around the world have gotten the jabs.
Of the more than 7 billion people on Earth, only about 1.2% of the world’s population is now fully vaccinated against the Coronavirus.
Taking an oral vaccine against COVID-19 could have a number of positive attributes, including being more affordable, having faster distribution (no freezing necessary), and is easier to administer as people would potentially be able to take the pill in the comfort of their own home.
One of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine pills will soon go through its first clinical trial, allowing for the vaccine to be self-administered, more easily and quickly distributed, and with fewer side effects.
Behind it is a new pharmaceutical company called Oravax Medical Inc., which will start its first phase of clinical trials in Q2, 2021.
Clinical trials found that the vaccine promoted the development of antibodies, which are necessary for longer-term immunity.
The vaccine candidate is also safe, efficacious, and well-tolerated at normal to high doses.
Pfizer has begun testing an antiviral pill for Covid-19. A protease inhibitor, the drug would block enzymes required for the virus to replicate and could be used outside of hospitals by newly infected people. Phase one trial of the drug – called PF-07321332 – is being conducted in the US.
Merck’s developers of ‘molnupiravir’ hope the pills can be prescribed widely to anyone who gets sick.
But beyond ensuring the drug works is making sure it’s safe.
Viruses are uniquely difficult to attack with drugs. They hijack human cells and set up machinery to churn out copies of themselves, creating a challenge: destroying the virus without harming the cells. Success, when it comes, can be fleeting, because viruses mutate to survive.
Molnupiravir doesn’t stop the virus from replicating, though. Instead, the drug introduces errors into the virus’s RNA that are then replicated until it’s defunct.
Data from Merck’s Phase II/III trials are expected in late March.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented a study of the drug’s main ingredient and researchers there said, based on their essays, that molnupiravir’s use should be limited to those likely to get the greatest benefits, “due to the unknown long term risks associated with systemic exposure to a DNA mutagen.”
The San Francisco–based company engineered a common cold virus called an adenovirus to carry instructions for making two coronavirus proteins into human cells. There, the proteins can be made to prime the immune system to later fend off the coronavirus.
Vaxart’s vaccine is a pill that can be stored at room temperature and doesn’t need trained medical workers or equipment to administer.
DNA instructions for building the coronavirus spike protein are zapped into the skin with a split-second pulse of electricity. From there, cells in the body produce the spike protein and cue the immune defenses.
No other vaccine has this delivery method. Electrical pulses that push the DNA into cells are made by a handheld device that resembles an electric toothbrush. Some people report that the zap is less painful than a needle stick.
The vaccine may produce fewer side effects than some already in use. “We haven’t seen fatigue and fever and other systemic effects,” says Joseph Kim, INOVIO’s chief executive officer.
Only five of 40 people tested in a Phase I study reported any side effects, and all of those were mild, researchers reported December 23 in EClinicalMedicine.
Additionally, the vaccine can be stored for a year at room temperature and for five years in a refrigerator.