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Vaccine pills: the future of Pharma?

Posted on: 11 May
The future marches on apace, especially in the Pharmaceutical industry, where rapid leaps in innovation are keeping pace with the equally rapid development of world-beating technological advancements.

In the multi-billion pound UK Pharmaceutical sector- which is set to grow to $43bn by 2020- the latest development to hit the headlines is that of vaccine pills. Developed in Cardiff by a team of UK scientists, this prototype oral flu vaccine doesn’t have to be refrigerated- unlike most other inoculations of its type- and is stable at room temperature. Therefore, it can be taken in tablet form.

Even as an initial breakthrough, this influenza pill could be a development that changes the way in which we approach vaccinations. Though there is currently an oral vaccine for polio, that has to be sorted in a freezer: by creating a vaccine that can easily be shipped, stored and taken, the industry can take another step towards making healthcare easily accessible for more people across the world, especially in hotter countries- and much more affordable, as refrigeration counts towards the high cost of many vaccines. 

Eventually, it would also rule out the use of needle-based inoculations. 

Though most vaccines work by injecting patients with a heavily diluted, stable part of a virus or germ- such as a peptide- that then stimulates the immune system, the new vaccine was made by creating man-made, synthetic versions of those same peptides, which mimicked the actions of the real viruses and reacted in the same way when tested against human cells. And though normal germs or proteins are digested when eaten, these unnatural, stable versions of the virus will be absorbed into the bloodstream and induce an immune response instead. 

Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists’ findings revolved around creating ‘pathogen-like proteins’ that were the mirror image of the proteins found in flu viruses- but were more stable, and therefore more likely to have a lasting effect on patients. 

Though it’s still early days- and the vaccine has as yet only been tested on mice and human cells- many companies are hopeful that this could be the start of a real breakthrough. Though the vaccine industry is a booming business- and is expected to reach over $59bn in value by 2020- it is also strictly regulated, and there is a growing worldwide demand for newer vaccine types, and mature and combination vaccine types, especially from developing countries.  

This new form of vaccine is therefore understandably piquing interest around the world- and accruing investment as it goes. Whilst there are other proposed forms of rapid inoculation being developed around the world- including a ‘dissolvable patch’ that would administer the vaccine through the skin, or biodegradable particles that could contain different vaccines, and therefore deliver multiple shots in one injection, oral vaccines stand out due to their versatility and the ease with which they would be able to be delivered once developed. 

Indeed, earlier this year global Pharmaceutical company Aviragen Therapeutics announced its proposed merger with drug delivery firm Vaxart, with the aim of combining their resources and ultimately creating a vaccine tablet that would shake up the industry as it goes. A month later, Pharmaceutical company Prokarium received a $10m investment from countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Sweden and South Korea to develop oral vaccines for diseases and viruses like typhoid and Chlamydia. 

With development likely to continue apace, it’s clear that the future of oral vaccines is looking bright- and though the only current inoculation is for influenza, the sector holds a lot of potential, and will likely see a lot of innovation over the next few years. 

Watch this space…

It’s time to innovate.

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