Cambridge University could start needle-free coronavirus vaccine trials this autumn

The vaccine could protect humans from COVID-19 as well as other future coronaviruses


After being awarded £1.9 million in funding from the UK government, a group including the University of Cambridge could start clinical trials for a vaccine “in late autumn or early next year”.

The collaboration between DIOSynVax (a “spin-out company” from the University of Cambridge, set up in 2017), the University of Cambridge and the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is now able to move their vaccine into the stages of clinical testing, to take place at the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Clinical Research Facility.

This particular vaccine is being designed to be delivered needle-free, using “spring-powered jet injection” taking less than 1/10th of a second. It can also be freeze-dried as a powder and thus transported without the cold-storage as required by some other vaccines, rendering it even more important for those countries who may not have the sufficient infrastructure.

Head of the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics at the University of Cambridge and founder of DIOSynVax Professor Jonathan Heeney said: “Our approach involves 3D computer modelling of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s structure. It uses information on the virus itself as well as its relatives – SARS, MERS and other coronaviruses carried by animals that threaten to ‘spill-over’ to humans again to cause future human epidemics.

“Ultimately we aim to make a vaccine that will not only protect from SARS-CoV-2, but also other related coronaviruses that may spill over from animals to humans.”

A vaccine is regarded by many as being essential for a return to pre-Covid reality. Dr Rebecca Kinsley, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge and Chief Operating Officer of DIOSynVax, said: “We all hope the current clinical trials have a positive outcome, but even successful vaccines are likely to have their limitations – they may be unsuitable for vulnerable people, and we do not know how long their effects will last for, for example.

“Our approach – using synthetic DNA to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – is revolutionary and is ideal for complex viruses such as coronavirus. If successful, it will result in a vaccine that should be safe for widespread use and that can be manufactured and distributed at low cost.”

Featured image credit: Christian Richardt, Wikimedia Commons, screenshot from https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-developed-sars-cov-2-vaccine-receives-ps19million-from-uk-government-for-clinical-trial