Oral COVID-19 vaccine? Filipino molecular biologist studies possibility

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2020 11:03 AM

Oral COVID-19 vaccine? Filipino molecular biologist studies possibility 1
Marikina residents have their children vaccinated in a program of the city government on September 23, 2019 amid the reemergence of polio in the country after almost 2 decades being declared polio-free by the World Health Organization. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - A molecular biologist said Monday he was studying the use of yeast as a means to administer COVID-19 vaccine orally in the Philippines to avoid problems in cold storage.

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a professor of biology and theology at Providence Colleges in the US, cited as an example the polio vaccine which can be given orally.

"When you put it in milk, some people say you can put it in beer, and when you drink it, the yeast when it enters your body will be able to secrete and manufacture parts of the virus in a way that will trigger an immune response in you," he told ANC's Matters of Fact.

"It’s a crazy idea but if you look at the science, the foundations for this project working are already there. There are already laboratories that have used yeast to deliver other molecules, proteins that will generate an immune response in animals. Now we just have to try it with the COVID-19 particle itself."

He added that the Philippines faces a challenge in deploying healthcare workers to administer the vaccine and its need for cold storage.

The COVID-19 vaccines of Pfizer, which has been approved for emergency use in US and UK, and Moderna need cold temperatures for storage.

"The need for refrigeration, for so many syringes, healthcare workers is a particular challenge dito sa Pilipinas... The idea here is we would just distribute the yeast and add it to the drink and you would need a refrigerator, an injection," he said.

Austriaco said his laboratory, funded by Providence College, has been working on yeast research for 15 years and is building the genetically-engineered yeast.

The professor said he plans to fly back to the US towards end of January to fetch the yeast and test it at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where he is a visiting professor.

He added that he would apply before the Department of Science and Technology to pursue further research if the tests were successful.

"Yeast research is not expensive. We have enough funds to cover the creation of the viral delivery system, to test the yeast in mice here in UST. If the data looks good I’m going to go out and look for more money," Austriaco said.

"What I've learned especially in working in OCTA (Research Group) and interacting with so many government officials, in order for me to do this as quickly and as freely as possible is that at this time, just to try the pilot work, we just want to make sure we are financially independent."

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