The University of Santo Tomas (UST) will soon host a laboratory that will try to develop a yeast-based oral Covid-19 vaccine.
Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, who is also a molecular biologist and an OCTA Research fellow, disclosed the ambitious project that he sees rolling out in April.
Austriaco is scheduled to return on 27 March from the US to work on the oral vaccine that he said would be affordable to Filipinos.
The Philippines, so far, is banking on donated vaccines from China and the Covax facility of the World Health Organization to roll out its vaccination program that aims to inoculate two million local medical frontline workers.
It would take months before the government could raise enough vials to cover this number, and more to inoculate 70 million more of the country’s 111 million population.
Austriaco believes it is worth trying to develop an oral vaccine whose potential has been looked at by his group in the US.
His return this month will pave the way to the setting up of the laboratory at UST that he sees will continue the work on the yeast.
“I’ll go on a 14-day quarantine although I’ve completed my vaccinations,” Austriaco said. “Then, we’ll start tests on animals we’re bringing in from Taiwan before we’ll be able to test on invited volunteers.”
Although the project is ambitious, Austriaco said he believes in its potential.
“Science is not easy,” he stated. “There are more failures than successes in science. But there’s a good chance it will work.”
Austriaco also said he is looking at a company that produces baking yeast in Laguna to partner with.
“There are factories in Laguna that make yeast. It will not be difficult to produce the yeast that will be placed in vegan capsules should the tests prove successful,” he said.
“But we are so many steps away (from producing the oral Covid vaccines),” he added. It will take months or more than a year to determine its success.
Major pharmaceutical companies have developed injectable vaccines at a rapid pace, but no company has to make oral Covid vaccines yet.
“There’s enough basis for science to think that it will work. But we’ve never tried it (yet),” Austriaco said. “We’re working non-stop to get it finished. The Filipino people are worth all of this effort.”