See our full report on how COVID-19 vaccines work

In a traditional vaccine, the antigen (the part or parts of a pathogen which may be used by the immune system to develop an immune response) is exposed to the body in a way that does not harm the host. If successful, the immune system creates antibodies to recognize the antigen for future neutralization.

DNA-based vaccines offer a clever extra step in the development of those antibodies by removing the middle step. Rather than introducing an element that triggers our body to (hopefully) produce neutralizing antibodies, a DNA vaccine works by implementing antibody factories via plasmids containing DNA.

A basic representation of a plasmid, consisting of a continuous double-helix DNA molecule.

DNA itself is a blueprint for the creation of proteins. Because antibodies are themselves proteins, the DNA in a plasmid can be constructed as a blueprint for antibodies known to neutralize a particular pathogen.

When the plasmid is injected into cells, the plasmid is picked up by the body's metabolic processes and generates antibodies.

Some DNA vaccines use a capsid protein which enclose the DNA * for easier entry into cells. Currently, no DNA vaccine has been approved for human use, although they are actively used in veterinary practice. However, DNA vaccines are being developed for high profile viruses like HIV, Zika, and of course SARS-nCoV2 which causes COVID-19.

Companies developing a DNA COVID-19 vaccine

As of July 1, 2020

  • Genexine Consortium
  • Inovio Pharamceuticals
  • National Research Centre, Egypt
  • Karolinska Institute / Cobra Biologics (OPENCORONA Project)
  • Chula Vaccine Research Center
  • Osaka University/ AnGes/ Takara Bio
  • Takis/Applied DNA Sciences/Evvivax
  • Immunomic Therapeutics, Inc./EpiVax, Inc./PharmaJet
  • Zydus Cadila
  • BioNet Asia
  • University of Waterloo
  • Entos Pharmaceuticals
  • Symvivo