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Exclusive: El Segundo Research Center Testing Oral COVID-19 Vaccine

EL SEGUNDO (CBSLA) — A new vaccine being developed by one of the owners of the Los Angeles Lakers could offer protection from COVID-19 without the need for an injection.

COVID Vaccine Pill Trial
An El Segundo research institute is testing whether an oral COVID-19 vaccine might work as well, if not better, than existing vaccines. (CBSLA) 

Researchers at the Chan Soon-Shiong Research Institute in El Segundo are testing whether a series of capsules might work as well, if not better, than existing COVID vaccines.

"To have a vaccine that's room temperature that could be a pill is life changing," Dr. Tara Seery, a trial physician, said.

The oral vaccine is part of an experimental protocol being tested in healthy volunteers like Matt Henshaw.

But since scientists still don't know if pills alone can prevent transmission, the researchers are testing four different approaches. Some patients, like Henshaw, get one injection and two rounds of pills.

But the delivery of the vaccine, in a capsule, is not the only thing differentiating this vaccine from others.

While existing vaccines help create antibodies to the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus, ImmunityBio's T cell vaccine targets the globe in the middle — a part scientists say is less prone to mutation.

"And the value of doing so is that we generate killer T cells," Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who is one part Lakers owner and one part vaccine mastermind, said.

The researchers at ImmunityBio hypothesize that they can create longterm protection against the virus by generating both killer T cells and antibodies.

Soon-Shiong believes there is reason for optimism for lasting protection, even though the Operation Warp Speed-funded vaccine is still in the experimental stages with safety and efficacy yet to be proven.

"We know from previous SARS-COV-1 in 2003, people that got infected then have T cells that have lasted for 17 years," he said.

As for delivering the vaccine orally, it's not just to avoid a needly poke with Soon-Shiong believing that the combination of the two could be the key.

"By giving a jab, we hope to develop T cells all around your body," he said. "And by giving orally, we protect the mucus membranes, the gut and hopefully the nose, the mouth, because that's how the virus comes in. It doesn't come in through your blood."

As for Henshaw, now that he has finished his vaccine and boosters, he will undergo intensive monitoring for the next 12 months and hopes his experience will encourage others to enter a trial.

"The virus is mutating," he said. "So, I hope that we have solutions."

The trial is open to healthy adults under the age of 55 who are not pregnant and have not had COVID. More information about the vaccine trial can be found on ImmunityBio's website.


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