Coronavirus Vaccine Race Week Updates


Work on a potential coronavirus vaccine continues at a fast pace around the world, with more than 100 projects underway, but even the best predictions put an effective vaccine at least nine months away.

And experts warn that even promising early results do not guarantee that vaccines will be widely available anytime soon, as clinical trials take place in phases and require observing participants over time to assess their dose response.

The first week of May featured several notable announcements on efforts to create a coronavirus vaccine. In the United States, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna announced Thursday that its candidate coronavirus vaccine has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a second round of clinical trials. And scientists at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer are working on a new vaccine that they believe may be available by September.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have made waves in the UK recently when researchers said they may be able to assess the effectiveness of their candidate this summer, and that the vaccine could more available by September.

Here is an overview of the most prominent vaccine news of the week.

Moderna vaccine goes to phase two of trials to test side effects and effectiveness

Moderna is moving forward with a second phase of clinical trials after receiving FDA clearance.

Like Pfizer, Moderna’s candidate vaccine is based on a specially designed messenger RNA. The first phase of human clinical trials, involving more than 100 healthy volunteers, was conducted in March.

If the second round of trials succeeds, Moderna said it plans to start the third phase of clinical trials, which is designed to demonstrate that the vaccine is effective in different populations, early in the summer.

Moderna also announced a partnership with Lonza Ltd., a biotechnology company based in Basel, Switzerland, to produce up to 1 billion doses of the potential vaccine each year.

“We are accelerating the scale-up of manufacturing and our partnership with Lonza allows us to manufacture and distribute as many doses of mRNA-1273 vaccine as possible, if it turns out to be safe and effective”, Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO said in a statement.

Oxford University could evaluate vaccine by June

A candidate vaccine developed by scientists at the University of Oxford is one of eight tested on humans in clinical trials.

In a May 3 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said prospects so far have been “good enough”, adding that Oxford scientists will likely be able to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine candidate by June.

The Oxford vaccine includes genetic instructions for the spike protein on the surface of the virus that helps it bind to a host cell. The basic idea is that if the vaccine can ask human cells to make the protein and a person’s immune system can learn to recognize it, the body’s own defense systems can better protect against infection by the virus. virus.

In tests at the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana, a single dose of Oxford vaccine was effective in protecting rhesus macaque monkeys from developing COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus – even after monkeys were exposed to large amounts of the virus.

In human clinical trials, scientists aim to test the potential vaccine on approximately 6,000 volunteers, who will be followed over time.

Rhesus macaques and humans are thought to have a similar immune system, but encouraging test results in animals does not necessarily mean that tests in humans will give the same results.

Pfizer Messenger RNA clinical trial begins in the United States

Scientists from Pfizer and a German pharmaceutical company, BioNTech, have developed a potential vaccine against the coronavirus which began clinical trials in humans this week in the United States. The tests are being performed on up to 360 healthy volunteers in the first phase, the company said in a statement.

Phase one clinical trials are used to test the safety of the vaccine, but do not look at how well it works. Phase two trials assess the drug’s effectiveness and look for side effects.

The vaccine candidate Pfizer and BioNTech contains genetic material known as messenger RNA that has been reprogrammed to instruct human cells to make so-called advanced proteins associated with the coronavirus. The vaccine is designed to teach a person’s immune system to make the antibodies necessary to ward off viral infection.

Several other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are working on similar projects based on messenger RNA, but Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, previously told NBC News that these types of vaccine candidates worked in the laboratory but did not necessarily produce comparable immune responses in humans.

Resource constraints

Even as vaccine development progresses, some experts warn that shortages of resources could pose problems over time.

Just as supply chain issues have prevented many states from administering enough diagnostic tests for the coronavirus, the same resource constraints could affect vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

“We are thinking about the vaccine, but what if the vials in which it is stored, or the rubber stoppers in the vial or the pistons in the syringes become the constraint?” Prashant Yadav, a senior member of the Center for Global Development in Washington, told The New York Times.

The World Health Organization has also stressed the need to ensure that coronavirus vaccines are shared equitably with all countries once they are available. Some fear that the distribution of drugs and vaccines to combat COVID-19 will be unevenly distributed between rich and poor countries.


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