NantKwest starts dosing in subcutaneous, sublingual and oral COVID-19 vaccine trials

Patrick Soon-Shiong
Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., executive chairman of ImmunityBio and NantKwest (NantKwest)

ImmunityBio and NantKwest have begun dosing participants with subcutaneous, sublingual and oral COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The trials are designed to determine which combination of routes of administration holds the most potential.

While a clutch of COVID-19 vaccines are now in commercial use around the world, the potential for the coronavirus to become a pathogen that continues to circulate for years means there may be a long-term opportunity for prophylactics. ImmunityBio and NantKwest are part of a group of vaccine developers working to seize that opportunity.

The partners recently took a step forward when dosing began in clinical trials in the U.S. and South Africa. Two U.S. phase 1b clinical trials are evaluating the effect of giving sublingual or oral vaccines in addition to a subcutaneous formulation. Six subjects have been dosed in each U.S. trial.

ImmunityBio and NantKwest are also running a trial in South Africa that is testing the subcutaneous formulation. The South African clinical trial had dosed nine participants as of the last public update. ImmunityBio and NantKwest plan to enroll 140 subjects across the U.S. and South African studies. 

If ImmunityBio and NantKwest, which are set to merge, are to bring the vaccine to market, they will likely need to show it is efficacious in a world increasingly dominated by coronavirus variants that display some level of resistance to treatments and prophylactics based on the original Wuhan virus. Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., executive chairman of ImmunityBio and NantKwest, thinks his candidate will be less susceptible to immune evasion than other vaccines. 

“Current COVID-19 vaccines only target the S protein, the primary source of virus mutations. These mutations may render existing vaccines less effective, so we have designed our vaccine differently and are driving T cells to both S and N. Thus, the immune system could clear the infected cell rather than merely block the virus from entering the cell,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement.