There are now 70 vaccines against coronaviruses in development

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Scientists around the world are scrambling to find a vaccine – the ultimate panacea Covid-19.

There are now 70 candidate vaccines in development, up from 44 on March 20, according to a WHO document released on Saturday. Experts predict that it will take between 12 and 18 months to get a vaccine approved for mass use.

Of the 70 Covid-19 vaccines under development, only three are currently in clinical trials, which means they are being tested on humans. Clinical trials are designed to assess the safety and efficacy of a new drug and consist of several phases, each involving more patients.

CanSino Biological in China, in partnership with the Beijing Biotechnology Institute, leads the way with the only vaccine candidate currently in phase two. US players Moderna and Inovio Pharmaceuticals are the other two developers who test vaccines on humans and both are currently in phase one. The remaining 67 vaccines are still in the preclinical testing stage.

Hopes pinned on existing drugs

To bridge the gap by then – when a vaccine is approved – scientists continue to search for effective treatments, focusing on several existing drugs.

British health giant AstraZeneca joined the effort, announcing today that it will launch a clinical trial to assess the potential of Calquence, a drug already approved for the treatment of leukemia, in the treatment of immune response associated with Covid-19. The trial is expected to open in the next few days in the United States and several European countries.

An Israeli scientist works in a laboratory of the MIGAL Research Institute at Kiryat Shmona in Upper Galilee in northern Israel on March 1, 2020 where efforts are underway to produce a vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus adapted from a another for the infectious bronchitis virus.

Jalaa Marey | AFP | Getty Images

In addition, there has been encouraging news about Gildes remdesivir, a drug originally developed to treat Ebola. New data published April 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 68% of the 53 hospital patients showed improvement after taking the drug. However, this was not a controlled study (rather, the data came from a compassionate use program where investigational drugs are offered to patients with an illness without licensed therapies), so experts urge caution when interpreting these results.

Meanwhile, concerns are growing over the safety of the antimalarial drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, touted by US President Donald Trump as promising treatments. The news came this weekend that a trial of chloroquine in Brazil was discontinued after researchers discovered that a high dose was associated with an irregular heartbeat.

Speaking at a briefing on coronaviruses in Geneva on Monday, the executive director of the WHO health emergency program, Dr. Michael Ryan, said: “The medical and research community is really taking seriously the potential of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, and it is currently (involved) in a number of different trials. “

However, he added, “There is no empirical evidence, there is no evidence from randomized controlled trials that it works, and clinicians have also been warned to look for side effects from the drug. “

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