CORONAVIRUS

Iowa commits $2M to COVID-19 vaccine collaboration for Iowa State, University of Iowa

'We're ready to meet the urgent need for a COVID-19 vaccine'

Photo illustration (Dreamstime/TNS)
Photo illustration (Dreamstime/TNS)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday committed $2 million in federal coronavirus aid toward a University of Iowa-Iowa State University collaborative development of a COVID-19 nanovaccine that won’t require needles or refrigeration — addressing limitations other vaccines face.

Iowa’s COVID-19 nanovaccine candidate also could provide long-term immunity with a single dose, according to Reynolds, who in a statement said the collaboration will allow ISU and UI — along with industry partners — to leverage their patented technology.

Nanovaccines work by loading viral proteins into nanoparticles that are about 300 billionths of a meter across and are made from biodegradable polymers, according to Iowa State experts. The pertinent nanoparticles are incorporated into a nasal spray, which can be delivered with just a “sniff.”

“Exposure to the nanovaccine triggers the immune system to attack the virus,” according to an ISU news release.

“We’ve created a team that can innovate and move our ideas beyond the lab,” according to Iowa State engineering professor Balaji Narasimhan, director of the ISU-based Nanovaccine Institute and project leader of the collaborative — along with Michael Wannemuehler, associate director of the institute. “We’re ready to meet the urgent need for a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Iowa State’s Nanovaccine Institute was born in 2013 with “this kind of global health challenge in mind,” Narasimhan said in a statement, referencing the coronavirus pandemic that’s infected 44.8 million globally and killed nearly 1.2 million — including more than 228,000 in the United States.

With cases surging across the country — and in Iowa — public health leaders, federal administrators, and politicians alike have been speculating on how soon a vaccine might become available to the public, as researchers work feverishly to develop one.

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Dozens of vaccines are in the works — including 11 that have reached final clinical trial stages, according to the New York Times. UI investigators are participating in two vaccine trials, campus officials have said. And UI Hospitals and Clinics is among the state’s providers that have signed on to administer a vaccine — once it’s available.

UIHC has created a team to develop a plan for vaccine receipt and distribution. The vaccines currently in the later stages of development would require two doses around three or four weeks apart. And how long immunity would last remains unclear — along with whether recipients would need annual booster shots.

But UI pathology professor Kevin Legge — leading the UI side of the nanovaccine effort, along with co-investigators Stanley Pearlman and Thomas Waldschmidt — said his team’s prior work using nanovaccines against influenza “has shown that we are able to induce a broader and more sustained protective response.”

By positioning a person’s immunity at the sites of viral entry, a nanovaccine can “speed up the response time versus what occurs with current influenza vaccines,” according to Legge, who serves as director of the Pathology Research Flow Cytometry Core in the UI Carver College of Medicine.

“These funds will allow us to transfer the lessons learned on influenza vaccines toward the creation of a safe, effective and long-lasting mucosal vaccine against SARS-CoV2/COVID-19,” Legge said in a statement.

The COVID-19 nanovaccine collaboration draws on Iowa State’s strengths in nanovaccine research and development, along with its nanovaccine platform technology and animal health, and UI expertise in virology, immunity, and unique animal models, officials said.

The $2 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, according to Legge, will “greatly aid in our efforts to bring safe, effective, mucosal-based nanoparticle vaccines against respiratory virus infections to the community.”

In addition to potential benefits the collaboration could have for the nation and world, state officials stressed the implications for Iowa’s economy — as it involves start-ups like Skroot Laboratory Inc., a wireless sensor startup based in Ames; Zeteo Biomedical, a drug delivery device startup based in Austin, Texas; and Southwest Research Institute, a manufacturing-support nonprofit based in San Antonio, Texas.

The work also will bolster Iowa’s reputation “as a biosciences epicenter.”

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“Today’s announcement puts to use Iowa’s unique assets and attributes in the fight against COVID-19 and fuels economic development by establishing the state as a hub for vaccine development and attracting new investments and companies,” Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority, said in a statement.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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