TOKYO -- Japanese drugmaker Shionogi & Co. said Monday that it is developing a coronavirus vaccine with the help of insects and aiming to start clinical trials this year.
The technology behind the new medication was developed by Shionogi subsidiary UMN Pharma, a vaccine maker based in Akita, in northern Japan. The drugmaker is working with the health ministry in preparation for clinical trials. It hopes to eventually produce 10 million doses of the vaccine.
Making the vaccine involves reprogramming the genes of a baculovirus, a pathogen that only infects arthropods -- animals with external skeletons, such as insects and spiders -- to create a protein sheath similar to that of the coronavirus. The re-engineered virus is then injected into insects and allowed to grow and later harvested.
Insects are useful in mass producing vaccines because their cells withstand changes in various pressures better than those of mammals, Shionogi said. Using insects, a vaccine can be manufactured in just eight weeks.
Shionogi said the coronavirus vaccine is a top-priority project, and that it has been conducting joint research since March with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The virus' protein sheath, or antigen, triggers an immune response in the person receiving the vaccine. The vaccine is designed to train the immune system to recognize the antigen, so that it responds quickly when exposed to the actual coronavirus.