Human trials of the ‘fluvid’ pill are expected to start later this year
As the UK finally begins to shake off almost two years of restrictions, a British firm has seen “excellent” results in early studies of a “fluvid” vaccine pill. The team believes the breakthrough will be the next step on the road to Covid freedom.
Jabs have paved the way out of the darkest days of the pandemic, but the whole process could now become cheaper and pain-free with the pill.
West Sussex-based biotech firm iosBio is developing the combined flu and Covid vaccine in a capsule that could be sent in the mail for people to take at home.
If human trials of the pill, expected to start later this year, are successful it could provide a massive boost in Britain’s fight against winter respiratory diseases.
Wayne Channon, executive chairman of iosBio, said: “It looks like we’re going to have booster vaccinations for quite some time to come and we have flu vaccinations every year.
“With our approach, there is no reason why you can’t have a thermally stable pill, or capsule, which contains the normal four strains for a flu vaccine plus one for Covid.
“We’ve had excellent results in animal trials on all strains.”
Oral vaccines can be sent in the post and self-administered
In the early days of the pandemic, scientists turned to tried and tested injectable methods in the rush to end the outbreak.
But with annual Covid boosters now looking likely, iosBio is planning for a jab-free future.
Its vision is that vaccines could be sent in the post for people to take at home, eliminating the need to queue at a vaccine clinic.
Mr Channon added: “When you look at the distribution centres we’ve had for Covid, it’s an industrial level. The rollout was even more expensive than buying the vaccine.
“With capsules, we would only be limited by the speed of production of the capsules. This is our objective. We want to send this in the mail.”
After previously working on oral vaccines for the Zika virus and others, the team developed a Covid vaccine pill in 2020 which was licensed to a US company that is now running human trials.
In a bid to go one step further, iosBio has pivoted to making a combined pill that would also target flu.
The vaccine capsule uses methods similar to the AstraZeneca jab. At this stage, iosBio’s state of the art technology is used to make the vaccine thermally stable at room temperature. It is freeze-dried and encased in a capsule which ensures the vaccine is not destroyed in the stomach and can be delivered to the gut.
Some vaccines are already delivered via oral or nasal routes, including the oral polio vaccine which was taken as a drop on a sugar cube. However, many have failed in development.
Mr Channon said: “They have all suffered from the same problem ‑ how do you get it through the stomach and into the gut without the viral vector dying?
“Because adenoviruses are hugely thermally unstable, that’s why it’s distributed in an ultra cold chain. If you put it up to 37C, which you do in the stomach, it’s toast.
“What we do with our thermal stability excipients is we make it thermally stable up to 50C for months ‑ absolutely rock solid stable.
“And we put a coating on the capsules so that it disintegrates at a certain point in the gut.”
Delivering the vaccine to the gut allows it to be directly absorbed into the mucosal immune system, which provides protection at the main sites of infectious threat.
If proven to work in clinical trials, the vaccine pill could be far easier to distribute than the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs which require refrigeration.
UK Coronavirus latest
IosBio’s technology, called OraPro, could also be revolutionary for delivering vaccines in developing countries.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We continue to monitor vaccines in development globally and engage with the market as new vaccines and technologies gain approval.”
Kate Bingham, former chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce, has said the process needs to be sped up.
She said: “We need to improve the vaccine formats because, frankly, two injections delivered by healthcare professionals is not a good way of delivering vaccines.”
A further 95,787 Covid cases were reported yesterday, with 288 deaths.
Comment by Dr Sudaxshina Murdan, UCL School of Pharmacy
Older people might remember taking an oral vaccine for polio. There are also oral vaccines for cholera, rotavirus and salmonella, and a nasal spray vaccine for flu which is given to children. Alternatives to injectable vaccines have many benefits.
They do not involve needles and you do not need a trained vaccinator to give an injection, which cuts costs as well as the risk of injuries.
A tablet, capsule or liquid can be sent in the post and self-administered. Even if you need to pick it up from a healthcare setting, it is quicker to give out tablets than to inject each person.
Because viruses and bacteria normally enter our body through orifices such as the nose or mouth, it is important to protect these surfaces that might be exposed.
When you give vaccines via the nose or the mouth, you get immunity. More vaccines should be given in this way. But as injectable vaccines have been around for decades, we keep developing them as we know they work and technology has advanced much more.
So challenges remain for nasal and oral vaccines. One is that the efficacy of oral vaccines is often not as high in lower and middle-income countries as it is in Europe.
Stomach acid and enzymes also damage the power of oral vaccines. But iosBio’s capsule does not dissolve and release the vaccine until it enters the intestine.
Putting both Covid and flu vaccines into one capsule is also a good idea as you would only need to swallow one capsule.