The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unveiled an initiative, Project NextGen, which allocates over $500 million to support the development of next-generation Covid-19 vaccines.
Their aim is to explore innovative delivery methods beyond traditional injections. Three initial candidates have been chosen to receive funding for Phase 2b clinical trials, expected to commence as early as winter. These include two intranasal vaccine candidates and one self-amplifying mRNA vaccine candidate.
The intranasal vaccines, administered via nasal spray, target viruses directly at the infection site. One is developed by CastleVax, associated with Mount Sinai, receiving $8.5 million in funding. The other is by Codagenix, a New York-based biotech company, securing $10 million. This approach not only promises effective protection but also eliminates the need for needles, a significant benefit.
Another promising candidate is the self-amplifying mRNA vaccine developed by Gritstone Bio, a California-based biotech company. This vaccine, administered through injection, differs from conventional mRNA as it possesses the ability to replicate within cells. This unique feature allows for increased antigen expression at lower doses, potentially resulting in a broader and longer-lasting immune response.
Additionally, Project NextGen is exploring the possibility of vaccines delivered through skin patches. Luminary Labs, a New York-based consultancy firm, has been granted $100 million by BARDA to facilitate competitions aimed at incentivizing the development of these patch-based delivery systems. This approach could lead to vaccines with extended shelf lives, no need for cold storage, and offer an alternative for those averse to injections.
Furthermore, BARDA is allocating over $240 million towards various Project NextGen studies. This includes support for cold-chain sample management, genomic sequencing, and enhanced laboratory capacity for testing. The initiative reflects a concerted effort to not only combat the current pandemic but to also prepare for future outbreaks and improve national preparedness in the face of emerging infectious diseases.