Coronavirus | India’s Premas Biotech, Israel’s Oramed jointly develop oral vaccine for COVID-19

However the findings of the joint venture have not been reported in a scientific publication yet.

March 21, 2021 10:06 pm | Updated 11:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

An Indian-Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected as is the norm, for COVID-19. A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection. However the findings have not been reported in a scientific publication yet and can’t be independently verified.

The product is also far from being tested in human trials, though company promoters say depending on how tests pan out, the vaccine candidate could be ready for human trials in the next three months.

Premas Biotech, a Gurugram-based biotechnology firm and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques.

The nascent COVID-19 vaccine candidate is a “protein-based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV-2 virus, that is, it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus. These three proteins are critical to the structure of the coronavirus and give it form as well as the ability to replicate inside the body. Typically vaccines are supposed to coax the immune systems into producing antibodies neutralising these antigenic proteins.

The challenge with making an oral vaccine is that gastric juices would rapidly degrade any protective layers enclosing the antigen making them useless. Oravax claims to have solved that problem but how, is part of their proprietary secret sauce.

Oravax, the company developing the vaccine, is a joint venture between Premas and Oramed. The latter specialises in making oral drug delivery systems and Premas has a technology platform called D-Crypt that is used to make a variety of “difficult to express” proteins in sizeable quantities efficiently.

“The vaccine candidate is also safe, efficacious and well-tolerated at normal to high doses, and generated high titres of neutralising antibodies. The VLP is manufactured using Premas’ proprietary D-Crypt™ platform, which is highly scalable and can be manufactured on large scales,” Oravax said in a statement.

Prabuddha Kundu, Co-founder and Managing Director, Premas Biotech, told The Hindu that an oral vaccine would significantly ease mass administration. “It would be like taking a vitamin pill and what I can disclose now is that we are more than 100% sure that the technology works and is promising. In a month we should have a scientific publication reporting our results.”

Oramed and Premas have an oral insulin drug candidate employing similar technologies underlying the vaccine candidate, and is currently in phase 3 human trials in the United States.

So far India has only two vaccines publicly available for the pandemic though several others, employing a variety of approaches, are in different stages of clinical trials.

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