Company in Rochester, Minnesota developing oral COVID-19 vaccine

Vyriad, a scientific research lab based in Rochester, Minnesota is developing an oral COVID-19 vaccine. (FOX 9)

Vyriad, a scientific research lab based in Rochester, Minnesota, started working on a COVID-19 vaccine early last year and lab testing shows its delivery method and properties could give people immunity to the virus.

Vyriad typically studies viruses as a way to fight against cancer, but in early 2020 when researchers first started looking into a COVID-19 vaccine, CEO Dr. Stephen Russell was eager to jump on board. 

"We just knew immediately that we could help," Dr. Russell said. 

Through months of testing and studying, Dr. Russell and his team have developed a COVID-19 vaccine taken through the mouth. A patient would take a small sip of liquid, about a tablespoon, swish it around in their mouth and swallow to become immunized. Similar oral vaccines have been used for viruses like polio and the concept is similar to the nasal spray flu vaccine. 

"This is not a totally off-the-wall approach to vaccines. It’s been well established that we can vaccinate in this way," Dr. Russell said. 

Because the vaccine would enter the body in the same way as the virus, through the nose and mouth, researchers think it could be even more effective than when the vaccine is administered through the bloodstream. Dr. Russell says this type of vaccine is also very adaptable, so it could be used to fight against mutations as scientists learn more about them.  

Vyriad has done lab testing on the virus, but is currently looking to partner with a larger drug company to create the quantity needed for clinical testing and mass production. Dr. Russell says he sees an oral vaccine as something that will be used further into the future. 

"We think that our vaccine will most likely be used as a booster to be administered to people whose immunity is falling or waning after they’ve been vaccinated or after they’ve been infected," Dr. Russell said. 

Dr. Russell says this method of delivering the vaccine orally could also be used in kids and adolescents or other people who have a fear of needles. The lack of needles could also make the vaccine more accessible.  

"It could make it more accessible to the world because the need for syringes and needles and technically trained staff for vaccine administration is a big problem," Dr. Russell said. 

While it’s unclear if the oral COVID-19 vaccine will ever be put on the market, Dr. Russell says its development will help scientists now and in the future have a better understanding of immunizations against upper respiratory infections. 

"It could be usable against influenza, against these coronaviruses the cause of common cold and against a bunch of other viruses," Dr. Russell said.