China is starting clinical trials with an inhaled Covid vaccine

China’s CanSino Biologics will begin clinical trials next week for a Covid-19 vaccine administered by inhalation, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer Xuefeng Yu told CNBC on Sunday.

Such a vaccine could be more effective than the injected one because the coronavirus enters the human body through the respiratory tract, Yu told CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal at the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island, China.

CanSinoBIO is developing the inhalation vaccine together with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology. The company’s injected adenovirus type 5 vector vaccine (Ad5-nCoV) has already been approved for use in China and several other countries.

Yu explained that an inhaled vaccine could theoretically offer additional protection by activating antibodies or T cells – white blood cells that are vital for the immune system – in the airways.

People who received Covid-19 shots at a temporary vaccination site in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China on April 15, 2021.

Liu Ranyang | China News Service | Getty Images

If that protective layer fails and the virus penetrates deeper into the body, other parts of the immune system could continue to fight the Covid virus, Yu added.

“So you add more layers – makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s why we’re going the mucosal route,” he said.

The CEO said the company used the same concept to develop an inhalation vaccine for tuberculosis, or TB. Studies done in Canada showed that the inhaled dose for the TB vaccine needed to protect it “is much, much less than the actual injection,” he said.

Increase the effectiveness of the vaccine

CanSinoBIO’s single-dose injected Covid vaccine has been approved for use in several countries including China, Pakistan, Mexico and Hungary.

The company said preliminary data from third-phase clinical trials overseas showed its vaccine was 68.83% effective two weeks after an injection at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 disease, while the rate after four weeks fell to 65.28%, Reuters reported.

According to Yu, six months after the first injection, the company investigated adding a booster shot, which could improve the immune response to the coronavirus.

“This also suggests that our vaccine could be improved – whether mixed with others or made by ourselves, I think that really requires a scientific study. We actually need data to show which way could be better,” said the CEO.

Earlier this month, the director of China’s Disease Control Center said the country was considering giving people various Covid shots to make the vaccine more effective.

Reuters reported Monday that Chinese researchers are testing blending Covid vaccines developed by CanSinoBIO and a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products. The process, which is ongoing in the eastern city of Nanjing, is expected to involve 120 participants, the report said.

China was the first country to report cases of Covid-19 in late 2019 and appears to have largely contained the outbreak. The country has announced that it will vaccinate 40% of its population by June.

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