Premas, Oramed unite to found oral COVID-19 vaccine startup

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Oravax Medical's candidate is designed to confer immunity against spike, membrane and envelope targets. (Getty Images/Naeblys)

Premas Biotech and Oramed have joined forces to start an oral COVID-19 vaccine startup, Oravax Medical. The biotech starts life with exclusive licenses from both companies and plans to get into the clinic in the second quarter.

Oravax was founded on the premise that combining Premas’ protein-based viruslike particles with Oramed’s oral protein delivery platform POD will result in COVID-19 vaccines that provide better protection than existing injectable prophylactics while also being easier to distribute and administer. It is unclear whether the vaccine can live up to that billing but Premas and Oramed are racing to find out.

Through Oravax, the partners plan to move a candidate into the clinic on the strength of animal tests that found one dose “promoted ... systemic immunity” through increases in immunoglobulin G and immunoglobulin A. The parties are yet to share data from the animal tests.

Premas and Oramed have generated enough evidence to persuade other unnamed stakeholders to come on board to set up Oravax, which is set to move the candidate into the clinic by the midpoint of the year.

Other companies already have oral COVID-19 vaccines in the clinic. However, Prabuddha Kundu, Premas co-founder and managing director, thinks the experience of Oravax’s parent companies will give it an advantage in the race to develop more convenient COVID-19 vaccines. 

“Oramed’s experience and success in conducting phase 2 and 3 oral protein trials positions our program very favorably in the race to find an effective oral COVID-19 vaccine that can be administered by anyone anywhere,” Kundu said in a statement.

The candidate is designed to confer immunity against spike, membrane and envelope targets. The first wave of COVID-19 vaccines only target the spike protein, meaning their protective power can wane when faced with variants such as B.1.351. Oravax’s candidate may be less vulnerable to viral escape as it has three targets.