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Start-Up Gains Access to Vaccine Nasal Spray Technology

Nasal spray

(Wikimedia Commons)

12 Oct. 2020. A company developing techniques to deliver vaccines like Covid-19 with a nasal spray received an opportunity to license the process from University of Houston. The agreement gives AuraVax Therapeutics Inc., a newly-formed biotechnology enterprise in Houston, an exclusive option to license rights to the technology, although financial details were not disclosed.

AuraVax Therapeutics designs vaccines for respiratory diseases, including those to protect against SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses responsible for Covid-19 infections. The company’s technology is based on research by Navin Varadarajan, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at University of Houston. Varadarajan’s Single-Cell Lab studies techniques for testing biological functions at the level of individual cells. The lab’s work includes testing methods for immune functions at this highly granular level, covering antibodies from B-cells and T-cells in the immune system, as well as engineering therapeutic enzymes and antibodies.

The company’s technology is based on the lab’s research into cellular immune responses in mucous membranes in the nose, as well as more comprehensive protections produced by the immune system, from immunoglobulin G and A antibodies from B cells in blood plasma and responses from T-cells, also white blood cells in the immune system. When formulated as nasal sprays, says AuraVax, vaccines can be given painlessly by clinicians or even self-administered by patients. And nasal spray vaccines are more chemically stable, thus do not need the constant refrigeration of syringe-delivered vaccines.

Varadarajan and colleagues tested their nasal spray vaccine protecting against SARS-Cov-2 viruses in lab mice, with results presented in a paper awaiting peer review and publication. The vaccine contains an antigen to stimulate an immune response against the S-protein covering the coronavirus spike that penetrates cells, binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 or ACE2 cellular receptors, and begins the infection process. And the vaccine also contains an adjuvant, an enzyme that boosts immune responses in mucous membranes. The tests with mice show the vaccine produces mucosal antibodies in the nose and lungs, as well as systemic neutralizing antibodies and T-cell responses.

We plan to stop Covid-19, a respiratory virus, at its point of entry, the nasal cavity,” says Varadarajan in a university statement, “and we believe our intranasal platform is a differentiated approach that will lead to a vaccine with increased efficacy to create sustained immunity to Covid-19.” He adds, “For airborne pathogens, the nasal compartment is the first point of defense that needs to be breached.”

Varadarajan founded AuraVax Therapeutics earlier this year, and serves as the company’s chief scientist. AuraVax received an exclusive option to license the nasal spray vaccine technology from University of Houston that holds intellectual property rights to the process. In most cases, an option gives a licensing prospect an opportunity to review and decide whether to license a technology, usually for a fixed period of time. In this case, the option agreement likely reserves the technology for AuraVax until it’s ready for a full-fledged license.

“We believe AuraVax has a competitive advantage,” notes Varadarajan, “given the immune responses and a supply chain that is well-suited for widespread distribution and self-administration distribution.”

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