By Cecile Mantovani
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Swiss medical researchers said on Wednesday they have launched an early-stage study to test a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate which would be administered via an arm patch, the latest to look at alternative methods of giving injections.
Unlike conventional vaccines that stimulate antibody production, the new PepGNP-Covid19 vaccine candidate focuses on T-cells, which are responsible for cellular immunity, to eliminate cells infected by the virus and prevent it from replicating.
British company Emergex Vaccines Holding Ltd developed the potential vaccine, while Unisanté medical research centre in Lausanne in collaboration with the city's CHUV hospital will run the trial, which started on Jan. 10.
Professor Blaise Genton, head of the study, said this cellular immunity generates so-called "memory cells", which could make the vaccine more durable and could be better than others at protecting against potential variants of the virus.
The possible vaccine will be administered via micro-needles in the patch that are less than one millimetre deep that they hope will provide long-term immunity from COVID-19 and do away with the need for seasonal booster shots.
"With this new vaccine that generates this cellular immunity we hope to have a longer period of protection ... we don't know yet, but it could be one year, two years, three years," Genton told Reuters.
To administer the vaccine, the patch will be pressed against the skin briefly and then removed.
The study is the first in the world with the new candidate and follows the start last year of another study in Lausanne to assess the safety of a new-generation dengue vaccine that uses the same technology.
Emergex Vaccines Holding Ltd announced in November it would begin the trial of the COVID-19 vaccine. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Drug companies are developing other ways of delivering vaccines. India's Bharat Biotech and partners Codagenix Inc and India's Serum Instituteis are each testing a nasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
The PepGNP-Covid19 researchers started vaccinating 26 volunteers last week and plan to give them two doses each - a base dose and a slightly stronger one. They will follow the volunteers for six months. (Reporting by Cecile Mantovani Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)