Researchers at University of Pittsburgh develop candidate for potential COVID-19 vaccine

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine believes it has broken ground in achieving a potential vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the disease that causes COVID-19. 

RELATED: Asymptomatic individuals may be rapidly spreading COVID-19, according to researchers

Researchers at the university said the candidate vaccine has been tested on mice and has produced antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 sufficient enough to “neutralize the virus.”

A paper published in eBioMedicine on April 2 details that the candidate vaccine for COVID-19 is based off previous work from earlier coronavirus epidemics. 

RELATED: Coronavirus: Symptoms, testing and how to prepare amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

“We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said co-senior author Andrea Gambotto, associate professor of surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine.  

According to researchers, the vaccine candidate, which has been named PittCoVacc, uses pieces of a viral protein to build immunity, similar to how current flu shots work.

RELATED:, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates

The potential vaccine is delivered using a fingertip-sized patch containing 400 tiny needles which delivers the spike protein pieces into the skin, which is where the immune reaction is strongest, according to researchers. 

The patch is inserted onto the skin like a band-aid with needles which are made of sugar and protein pieces that dissolve into the skin. 

RELATED: ‘We’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19’: UK group says it’s training canines to sniff out virus

“We developed this to build on the original scratch method used to deliver the smallpox vaccine to the skin, but as a high-tech version that is more efficient and reproducible patient to patient,” co-senior author Louis Falo said. “And it’s actually pretty painless—it feels kind of like Velcro.”

RELATED: Researchers say COVID-19 product of ‘natural evolution’ not a ‘laboratory construct’

The vaccine researchers are now in the process of applying for an approval from the FDA in order to begin human clinical trials in the next few months. 

“Testing in patients would typically require at least a year and probably longer,” Falo said. “This particular situation is different from anything we’ve ever seen, so we don’t know how long the clinical development process will take. Recently announced revisions to the normal processes suggest we may be able to advance this faster.”