OCTA Research fellow developing oral COVID-19 vaccine

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 7) — An associate at the OCTA Research team has disclosed work on an oral vaccine designed to combat COVID-19.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Sunday, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said the vaccine is meant to be an inexpensive alternative to other vaccines.

"We are basically taking a human probiotic yeast...and we are engineering that yeast to express a fragment of the Sars-COVID 2 virus. And our hope is that we will be able to take this yeast and we will be able to use the yeast to be able to stimulate the immune response, the protective response of the body, for Filipinos and other third world developing countries," he told Newsroom Weekend.

Austriaco, who is a molecular biologist, said he would be staying in the United States where he is now conducting experiments on his yeast-based vaccine over the next few weeks.

He said he hopes to get permission from the Philippine government when he returns so testing could be conducted.

"My hope is to return to the Philippines next month with the yeast so we can do animal testing sa UST (University of Santo Tomas). And if the animal testing works — it will take a few months for us to do that — then we will have to ask the Filipino government for permission to undertake clinical trial sa Pilipinas," he said.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration has given AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech emergency use approval

On Thursday, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said clinical trials for Jannsen's COVID-19 vaccine would start, while vaccines from Chinese companies Clover and Sinovac would follow.

Meanwhile, Austriaco said the country can expect to see a significant change in the number of cases depending on how soon vaccines arrive, as well as how fast people can be inoculated. He cited Israel, which he said had vaccinated 25% of its population before changes were observed.

"For us in the Philippines, it will really depend on how long it will take for us to vaccinate 15% to 20%. And since we are not aware of the precise delivery schedule of the vaccines, it's hard to predict at this time when we will reach that point where we will see visible effects on the pandemic," he explained.

Austriaco added OCTA was still calculating the trajectory of cases for February, adding they were "particularly concerned" because of the presence of the UK variant in the country.

As of February 6, the Department of Health said there were a total of 535,521 COVID-19 cases recorded in the country.