A new Covid vaccine delivered through a skin patch is being developed by scientists in Oxford.
There are firm hopes it could spark longer-lasting protection than the current crop of vaccines, potentially removing the need for seasonal top ups.
Scientists are already working on skin patch-based Covid jabs aiming to spark Covid-fighting antibodies.
But researchers at Oxfordshire-based company Emergex are working on a dose that would target a killer T-cell response.
Their vaccine candidate is now entering stage one trials, which will see it administered to 26 people in Lausanne, Switzerland.
If successful, its developers say it could be available by 2025.
The Emergex vaccine aims to use a skin patch, which would see the dose administered by a skin patch covered with microneedles (stock image of a skin patch vaccine. This is not the Oxford developed vaccine)
Researchers from Carolina and Stanford University have developed a microneedle vaccine patch that outperforms a needle jab to boost immunity. It also doesn’t need to reach as deep as a needle, researchers claim
Current vaccines including the AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots aim to trigger an antibody-based immune response.
They expose the body to Covid spike proteins, which the virus uses to invade cells.
These trigger antibodies that can fight the virus by binding to its spike proteins to prevent an infection.
How does the Emergex vaccine work?
Most vaccines mainly aim to spark Covid-fighting antibodies to stop an infection in its tracks.
But the Emergex vaccine aims to stimulate killer T-cells to destroy infected cells.
This strategy stops the virus from making millions of copies of itself helping to neutralise an infection.
The vaccine works by administering antigens from Covid through a skin patch.
These are only found on the surface of Covid-infected cells.
Once they find a killer T-cell that recognises them, they bind to it sparking the production of hundreds of copies of this cell.
These then prowl the blood stream searching for any cells that may be infected by Covid to remove them.
There is evidence that all vaccines trigger T-cell responses.
But the Emergex jab is specifically targeting this immune reaction.
But the Emergex vaccine instead aims to trigger killer T-cells, which destroy infected cells to stop viruses making millions of copies of themselves.
The jab sees an antibody only found on the surface of infected cells administered to patients.
This activates a specific killer T-cell which destroys cells that it spots with the antigen on its surface.
There is evidence that other vaccines, including the AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots, also trigger T-cells to fight off the virus.
The Emergex vaccine would be administered through a skin patch.
It is only a few millimetres across and bristling with microneedles to administer the vaccine into the body.
It can also last for about three months at room temperature, unlike other jabs that need to be kept in fridges or freezers.
Other companies are already trying to develop methods to administer Covid vaccines through skin patches because they can be kept at room temperature and could help those with a fear of needles.
In Australia researchers are developing a patch bristling with 5,000 microneedles.
It is coated with a dried version of the vaccine, and then has to be placed on the skin with an applicator for 10 seconds to administer the dose.
Researchers said the needles are too small to trigger the pain receptor, and that those who receive it usually only feel a slight flight.
The chief executive officer of Emergex, Robin Cohen, said: ‘Our T Cell priming vaccines may offer significant benefits over current Covid vaccines including longer lasting immunity and broader protection against new variants.
‘We are proud to announce the initiation of this trial and look forward to gathering data to support the development of this important next generation vaccine.’
Britain is already rolling out booster shots to over-50s and, from today, is now set to offer them to over-40s from six months after their second dose.
SAGE advisers have suggested that repeated Covid vaccinations may be needed every year to shore up the wall of protection — as with flu.
But there have already been concerns over uptake during this second drive, as figures show just three quarters of over-75s have already got their doses.
Professor Michael Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said that repeat vaccinations could keep Covid at bay.
He told Sky News: ‘In the longer term, Covid is likely to become endemic and we probably are going to have to manage it with repeated vaccination campaigns for years to come.’
Asked whether he felt confident about a ‘normal Christmas’, Professor Tildesley added: ‘I’m cautiously optimistic.
‘If we look at (the trends) we can see that although there has been quite a lot of variation over the past few weeks, and we’re still reporting very high numbers of cases, the total number of daily hospital admissions and the total number of deaths are quite a long way below where we were in November last year, which should give us some level of confidence.’
He added: ‘The booster vaccination campaign is going far better than it was a few weeks ago, but there’s still quite a lot of eligible people who have not yet had their booster jab.
‘So it’s really important if we do want to avoid restrictions ramping up that we get as many of those people out to get their booster jabs as possible over the next few weeks.’