[S]ynthetic biology has led to a way to create a weakened form of the pandemic coronavirus that causes covid-19. Although the idea remains a long-shot in the vaccine race, an attenuated coronavirus could be formulated into inexpensive nose drops for use around the world.
The startup company behind the new version of SARS-CoV-2, called Codagenix, is working with Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, which bills itself as the world’s largest vaccine maker. Plans are for the first volunteers to sniff up the synthetically designed virus starting in November.
The most advanced covid vaccine candidates, including those from AstraZeneca and Moderna Pharmaceuticals, expose a person to only one part of the virus, the crown-shaped “spike” that gives it its name, in order to generate antibodies.
The potential advantage of a vaccine using an attenuated live strain is that the body will encounter—and be able to react to—the entire virus. People will “catch” it through their nose, and it will even grow inside them. In theory, that could prompt the formation of not just antibodies but also T cells and specialized forms of immunity in the nasal passage.
“If you want to complete the immunological response, then you need to mimic the course of the disease,” says Rajeev Dhere, a director at Serum Institute. “This can only be done with live attenuated vaccine.”