Filipino priest-scientist developing yeast-based vaccine vs COVID-19

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2021 09:07 AM | Updated as of Mar 31 2021 09:21 AM

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MANILA - A Filipino molecular biologist is developing a yeast-based vaccine against COVID-19 and its more contagious variants.

"We are developing 2 versions of the vaccine. One [is] against the original strain and we have just started the development of a vaccine alternative against the variants -- the South African and the P.1 Brazilian variants. So, we will be testing both and we might just combine the 2," Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of OCTA Research Team told ANC.

The Dominican priest, who teaches biology and theology at the Providence College in the US, said the genetically engineered yeast creates a spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 to trigger an immune response against the illness.

"We have genetically engineered the yeast to make the SARS-COV-2 spike protein. We are now testing to see how well this is being done," he said.

Nicanor plans to return to the Philippines after the enhanced community quarantine is lifted and COVID-19 surge is mitigated. His team will test the vaccine on animals at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

"In theory, it's very good. But I've been a scientist now for 25 years. What looks good in theory is not what always happens in reality," he said.

"So, things have been going well so far. We are still in pre-clinical stages. We will need to test it further. And my hope is we will have some good data, new clinical data by Christmas," he added.

In a December interview, Nicanor said the vaccine, which would be administered orally, could be kept at normal refrigeration temperature, making it easier to distribute in different areas.

His laboratory is funded by Providence College and has been working on yeast research for 15 years.

Four anti-coronavirus jabs have so far obtained regulatory approval in the Philippines.

The Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization to Pfizer-BioNTech on Jan. 14 , AstraZeneca-Oxford on Jan. 28, Sinovac on Feb. 22 and Gamaleya's Sputnik V on March 19.