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Joint Venture Developing Oral Covid-19 Vaccine

Capsules in a glass


19 Mar. 2021. Two biotechnology companies are forming a new enterprise to produce a vaccine as a capsule or tablet to protect against Covid-19 infections. The new company known as Oravax Medical Inc. is a joint venture of Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc. in New York and Jerusalem, and Premas Biotech Pvt. Ltd. in Gurugram, India.

The two companies formed Oravax Medical to produce an oral Covid-19 vaccine to fill an eventual need for an annual vaccine that’s easy to manufacture, transport, store, and administer. Current vaccines are given today as injections requiring trained clinicians, have a short shelf life, and need at least refrigeration if not deep freezing while stored or distributed.

“An oral Covid-19 vaccine would eliminate several barriers to rapid, widescale distribution, potentially enabling people to take the vaccine themselves at home,” says Oramed Pharmaceuticals CEO Nadav Kidron in a company statement. “While ease of administration is critical today to accelerate inoculation rates, an oral vaccine could become even more valuable in the case that a Covid-19 vaccine may be recommended annually like the standard flu shot.”

Better equipped for viral variants

Oravax Medical is combining Premas Biotech’s vaccine technology with Oramed Pharma’s process for reformulating protein-based medications as oral drugs. Premas Biotech develops vaccines and other protein-based pharmaceuticals from an engineered strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, better known as baker’s yeast, a widely studied single-cell organism. The company says it applies its own process to express antigen proteins from yeast cells, particularly those addressing cell membrane surfaces like those on viruses. For a Covid-19 vaccine, Premas says it developed antigens targeting the SARS-CoV-2 viral spike, like other vaccines, but also the virus envelope and membrane proteins.

Oramed Pharma produces protein-based vaccines and therapies as oral drugs. Oramed says its technology enables protein vaccine or therapy delivery in a capsule, with a coating that protects the medication against digestive acids and enzymes. Oramed capsules also have an agent that improves absorption of protein payloads in the small intestine. As reported by Science & Enterprise in Nov. 2020, Oramed is testing a capsule delivering insulin in a clinical trial among people with type 2 diabetes.

Oravax Medical expects to formulate its vaccine candidate as virus-like particles with antigens targeting the spike, envelope, and membrane proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With multiple antigen targets, says Oramed Pharma, the Oravax vaccine should be better able to meet the challenge of variants from viral mutations. In preclinical tests with lab animals, says the company, the Oravax candidate generated immunoglobulin G antibodies in blood serum, but also immunoglobulin A antibodies protecting against infection in mucous membranes. A clinical trial is planned for later in 2021.

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