The UK biotech Enesi Pharma has joined forces with researchers from the University of Oxford to develop a vaccine for the bubonic plague that is simple to use and doesn’t require needles.
Caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague is infamous for having killed over 50 million Europeans in the Middle Ages. While rarely in Europe today, the disease still kills hundreds of people worldwide, particularly in Africa.
Although vaccines for the plague have been tried for decades, they have given only transient protection, and can’t protect against all forms of the plague, such as pneumonic plague. Since Y. pestis is capable of developing antibiotics resistance, the plague could one day re-emerge as a worldwide concern, and even has the potential to become a bio-weapon.
“Plague is a clear priority for governments and public health organizations around the world and there is a real need for a vaccine where none currently exists,” stated David Hipkiss, Enesi’s CEO.
The collaboration between Enesi Pharma and the University of Oxford aims to develop a needle-free vaccine for the plague. While the vaccine itself is being developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, Enesi will make a solid implantable version of the vaccine and deliver it to patients using a device that doesn’t require needles.
The company’s device resembles a lab pipette, with disposable cartridges holding the vaccine. When pressed against the skin, the device inserts a vaccine-carrying pellet just under the skin, which dissolves and releases the vaccine into the rest of the body.
This method is simpler to use than regular vaccines because it doesn’t require cold storage, and is designed to be usable by non-medically trained users. Without requiring a needle, Enesi reported that the device is less intimidating for recipients than traditional needle-based vaccines.
Needle-free vaccines are early in development, with companies such as the US Inovio Pharmaceuticals developing needle-free devices for DNA-based vaccines. A lot of attention is also going to oral vaccines. The UK biotech Prokarium has an oral vaccine against Y. pestis in preclinical stages, and an academic group in France is also developing an oral vaccine for the plague, which they tested in mice in 2017.
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