Taiwan is working on a Covid-19 vaccine that uses DNA technology and can be stored at room temperature, according to a study published on Thursday. The jab uses genetic material from the coronavirus’s spike protein to trigger an immune response in humans. Compared with mRNA vaccines, such as the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech products, which also make use of genetic material from the virus, DNA vaccines can be produced more quickly and at a lower cost. The Taiwanese vaccine is still in the preclinical stages but may be approved for human trials before the end of the year. A study of the effect on mice and hamsters published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases , found that they developed antibodies that peaked at eight weeks after getting two doses three weeks apart. The levels remained relatively high at week 20. Immunised hamsters were exposed to the virus seven weeks after vaccination and were found to have less viral RNA in their lungs compared with animals that did not receive the jabs. Liu Shih-Jen, an investigator at the vaccine research and development centre of the National Health Research Institutes who led the DNA vaccine team, said it could enter phase 1 trials by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval. Sinopharm finally publishes Covid-19 vaccine trial data “The phase 1 trial may take at least three to four months. The government agency [responsible for approvals] might be more prudent and take more time to review the process since this is the first in humans,” he said. “Our main goal is to build up the technology platform,” Liu said. “We’re worried about a possible ‘Sars-CoV-3’. [A reference to the coronavirus’s official name]. If it appeared, we would have vaccines ready right away.” One-tenth of the Covid-19 vaccines that have entered the clinical phase are DNA-based, according to the World Health Organization. None have yet been approved for use. The 10 vaccines are being developed by companies from Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and the United States, while 16 others are in preclinical development. “Recent clinical studies indicated that DNA vaccines are safe and effective candidates for treating or preventing infectious diseases, such as HIV-1, Zika virus, Ebola virus, MERS-CoV, and influenza viruses,” the researchers said in the paper. The researchers also compared the DNA technology with existing Covid-19 vaccine platforms. “The DNA vaccine platform is suitable for rapid and large-scale manufacturing during infectious disease outbreaks,” the researchers said. “Compared to DNA vaccine, mRNA vaccine needs ultralow temperature for storage and transportation.” Beijing blocked Taiwan’s deal to buy BioNTech vaccines, Tsai says For example, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines that use mRNA technology require cold-chain storage, posing a challenge to developing countries where such facilities are too expensive or not available. Vaccines that use an adenovirus as a vector, for example the AstraZeneca vaccine “may elicit stronger immune response than DNA and mRNA vaccines, but their vaccine efficacy could reduce through pre-existing immunity against Adenovirus vectors”, the researchers said. Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester in England, who was not involved in the study, said that the DNA vaccines could help developing countries vaccinate more people. “If DNA Covid-19 vaccines can match the performance of mRNA vaccines, with the more simple, accessible fridge 2-8C storage and transportation conditions, for a reasonable cost, this will help more countries protect their populations against Covid-19,” he said. “DNA vaccines are more stable than mRNA vaccines, the latter of which – Pfizer, Moderna – have been the most successful so far against Covid-19.” Tang said the human clinical trials would have to assess whether the effects of the vaccine are similar to those found among animals. Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine is effective in teens Professor Jin Dong-yan, a molecular virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the study found that the hamsters in the trial had a reduced concentration of infectious particles – known as the viral titre – rather than completely eliminating them, which showed that they had a virus infection. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could protect against symptomatic and asymptomatic infection at a very high rate. In hamsters, they did much better,” said Jin. The vaccines will use a process known as electroporation to administer the dose. This involves the use of a syringe with three needles, two of which send small electrical pulses to administer the vaccine. Liu, from the Taiwanese team, said this method was used to enhance DNA delivery, but Hong Kong University’s Jin said this was a disadvantage of the technology and “it might not be easily accepted”.