Bacterial spores could replace hypodermic needles for vaccinations

Taking the “ouch” out of injections is a worthy endeavor, but what if they could be avoided entirely? New research conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London offers the hope of achieving just this, by using a bacterium to deliver a vaccine which can be administered via nasal spray, oral liquid, capsule, or small soluble film placed under the tongue, thus reducing the risk of spreading infectious diseases like HIV.

The research, led by Professor Simon Cutting from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, was conducted with the use of pro-biotic spores taken from the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which Cutting cites as ideal vehicles for carrying antigens and promoting an immune response in the patient.

"Rather than requiring needle delivery, vaccines based on Bacillus spores can be delivered via a nasal spray, or as on oral liquid or capsule," explained Cutting. "Alternatively they can be administered via a small soluble film placed under the tongue, in a similar way to modern breath fresheners. As spores are exceptionally stable, vaccines based on Bacillus do not require cold-chain storage alleviating a further issue with current vaccine approaches.”

Cutting has performed pre-clinical evaluations of Bacillus-based vaccines for a number of diseases, including tuberculosis, influenza, and tetanus, but he also discovered that the technique could be applied to deliver a vaccine suitable for protecting against Clostridium difficile – a gastrointestinal infection responsible for approximately 50,000 infections, and 4,000 deaths per year in the UK, primarily in the elderly. Clostridium difficile currently has no vaccine, needle-based or otherwise.

To help bring the new vaccine technology to market, Cutting has teamed up with investors to form the company Holloway Immunology. To begin with, the company will focus on developing three lead vaccines: tuberculosis, Clostridium difficile, and influenza.