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Cambridge University Science Magazine

DIOS-CoVax, a next-generation coronavirus vaccine, has been developed by Professor Jonathan Heeney of Darwin College and his company, DIOSynVax. The key ingredient of most currently approved COVID-19 vaccines is the spike protein RNA sequence from the first-isolated SARS-CoV-2 variant. However, SARS-CoV-2 is prone to mutations; if SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins drastically change, new variants could be unrecognisable to our immune systems, rendering current vaccines less effective. To provide broader immune protection, the Cambridge team have identified more common antigens across coronaviruses. ‘DIOS-CoVax vaccines target elements common to all known “beta-coronaviruses” — those coronaviruses that are the greatest disease threats to humans’, says Professor Heeney. ‘These structures are vitally important to the virus life cycle… We are confident they are unlikely to change. Therefore, DIOS-CoVax should protect us against variants we’ve seen so far and hopefully future-proof us against emerging variants’.

DIOS-CoVax is administered through a blast of air on the skin, rather than via a needle, and it takes less than 0.1 seconds, potentially speeding up the vaccination process. An appealing alternative to those with needle phobias, this technology provides hope for increased coronavirus vaccine uptake. DIOS-CoVax is currently undergoing its first safety trials as a booster dose for healthy volunteers in Southampton. If successful, DIOS-CoVax could also be manufactured as a powder to aid global vaccination efforts — a lifeline for lower income countries.

Elizabeth English