Merck has secured an exclusive option to license Symvivo’s bacTRL platform for use in oral vaccine delivery. The research collaboration positions Merck to evaluate a technology that uses engineered bacteria to deliver genetic material.
Symvivo develops oral vaccines by genetically modifying probiotic bacteria. Upon administration, the bacteria shepherd their genetic payloads through the upper gastrointestinal tract and then colonize the large intestine. Bacteria in the colony bind to intestinal epithelial cells, replicate and deliver DNA that encodes for a molecule linked to the targeted pathogen.
Merck has secured an exclusive option to license the technology for the oral delivery of vaccines through a research collaboration with Symvivo, thereby becoming the second big company in quick succession to show an interest in the technology. Johnson & Johnson formed a research collaboration to assess the use of bacTRL in therapeutics late last year.
Symvivo, like other developers of novel technologies applicable to vaccines, has advanced work on its platform during the pandemic. Late last year, Symvivo dosed the first participant in a clinical trial of its bacTRL-Spike COVID-19 vaccine, marking the first time a human had received an orally delivered bacTRL.
The COVID-19 clinical trial is assessing three doses of bacTRL-Spike. Participants will receive either 1 billion, 3 billion or 10 billion colony-forming-units of live Bifidobacterium longum. Symvivo has engineered the bacteria to deliver plasmids. The plasmids contain DNA that encodes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein targeted by all COVID-19 vaccines.
If effective, bacTRL-Spike will have two key advantages over first-generation COVID-19 vaccines. Firstly, the vaccine is delivered orally. Secondly, the vaccine is stored at room temperature. Those features could simplify the logistics of mass-vaccination campaigns and eliminate dislike of needles as a potential barrier to uptake.
While COVID-19 has tipped interest in bacTRL toward its infectious disease applications, Symvivo also sees scope to use the platform to develop oncology, cardiovascular and genetic disease products.