Stanford tests new COVID-19 vaccine that can be more easily distributed around the world

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The war against COVID-19 has unleashed a new generation of cutting-edge vaccines. Some using genetic code to turn our own cells into tiny vaccine factories. But in the years to come, some researchers believe an old-school approach may help get more vaccine supplies to countries that need them.

"Many developing countries are yet to receive a dose, and the reflects the inequality," Stanford researcher Bali Pulendran, Ph.D. said.

To help bridge that gap Pulendran and colleagues at the University of Washington have begun experimenting with what's known as a subunit vaccine. The platform employs a fragment or antigen from a dead sample of the virus to trigger an immune response. He says the technique is one of the most common in the world.

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"Subunit vaccines have been administered to hundreds of millions, if not billions of people worldwide and in fact, they represent one of the main kinds of vaccines. For example, the Hepatitis-B vaccine, diphtheria pertussis and tetanus," Pulendran said.

But to make their candidate more effective against COVID-19, the team is adding helpers known as adjuvants, that influence how the immune system reacts.
Along with collaborators at the University of Washington, they tested roughly five adjuvants in a non-human primate study, including one that seemed to help neutralize the South African strain of COVID. If they're successful they believe the subunit vaccine could be more easily distributed globally since it doesn't require deep cold refrigeration or another special handling.

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"That's where I think vaccines such as this have an important contribution to make," Pulendran adds.

The Stanford team says the subunit technology also has a strong and well-documented safety record, in use around the world.

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