Paths to a coronavirus vaccine explained
A difficult path
As the toll from COVID-19 keeps rising, both across the world and in India, the pressure to formulate a vaccine has never been greater. Here’s a look at all the companies that are making headway.
Serum Institute of India
Working with British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca, the Indian institution is working on manufacturing a vaccine created by the Oxford University – currently the one showing best results – and scaling up production to a 100 million doses.
The Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded biopharmaceutical company is trialling its Itolizumab drug to see if it can combat the virus; a phase-II study is currently underway in three citites.
This Bangladesh based manufacturer is working on manufacturing Gilead’s Remdesivir – the drug can mitigate the effects of COVID-19 – and has vouched to provide it freely at government hospitals.
Only the second place to start trials for Favipiravir, the Bengaluru based company is following in the footsteps of Glenmark and testing the flu medicine for its effectiveness against COVID-19.
Here’s why a vaccine for coronavirus is far away
Where is the Corona vaccine?
In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a number of countries have tried to help researchers and scientists by setting up advanced labs and issuing financial grants, but there have been no real results till date. Some of the most promising trials have been held by various sets of researchers listed below.
Imperial College London
Professor Robin Shattock’s vaccine will begin human trials in June, having been tested with animals since early February. When injected, the self-amplifying RNA vaccine delivers genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the ‘spike’ protein on the surface of the coronavirus. This provokes an immune response to create immunity to COVID-19. (Representative Image)
The University of Oxford said it is ready to trial its vaccine candidate, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, developed from the common cold virus whose safety in humans is already established. Its phase two trials have gone well and there is now push towards a phase three trial that will involve thousands of persons.
The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology will work with the Chinese pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics and Canada’s National Research Council. Referred to as Ad5-nCoV, the vaccine candidate received Chinese regulatory approval earlier this year, allowing CanSino Biologics to move ahead with human clinical trials in China. (Representative Image)
Another company, Sinovac, backed by the Chinese government, is working on a vaccine, and plans to produce 100 million shots a year, news reports said.
Is a vaccine the final step in beating COVID-19?
With the entire world grappling with COVID-19, the race for a vaccine has been on for a while now; but, will a vaccine end the coronavirus threat once and for all?
Scientists are predicting that current infections are only the first wave of the virus; experts expect that coronavirus won’t die down till at least 2022, and will arrive in waves.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus is undergoing varied mutations – while different strains of the virus form around the world – making it all the more complex to design a one-size-fits-all vaccine.
With the virus being as complex as it is, a vaccine will take time to formulate, but even once it arrives, the vaccine will only be specific to existing strains of the virus, and won’t cover complex mutations that come later.
In that scenario, the best way to eradicate the virus would be to develop herd immunity – which is time consuming – meaning, either way, this pandemic is set to last for a long while.
All the countries with a potential coronavirus vaccine
With the entire world grappling with COVID-19 and global hospital infrastructure struggling to cope with the massive toll, the race for a vaccine is heating up, and some countries have made breakthroughs.
While India has 30 different vaccines under development, the country has also made headway on a plasma based treatment for COVID-19 which uses plasma from the blood of recovered patients.
Italian scientists have devised five test vaccines, two of which they selected for further trials after testing them successfully on mice.
The Middle Eastern country has made major progress on a monoclonal antibody for the virus, even reaching out to global manufacturers to explore the possibility of mass production.
England’s Oxford University has made headway on a vaccine, initiating a phase-one human clinical trial in April, it remains to be seen what the results of the trial are.
America does not have a vaccine currently, but are relying on drugs that could potentially help patients beat COVID-19; the Western nation is testing malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and antiviral drug remdesivir.
Remdesivir: The drug that could help virus patients
With the coronavirus sinking its claws deeper and deeper into the world, and with no vaccine in sight till at least a year, the best way to deal with COVID-19 is to use stop gap measures to relieve pain.
Remdesivir has become the first drug with proven benefits against COVID-19, with a major US-led trial concluding as much.
The drug was originally engineered to treat Ebola – by US pharmaceutical Gilead Sciences – but was not as successful in beating the disease as the other medicines it was up against, eventually getting discontinued, because it did not boost survival rates.
In February, the drug was brought back, to test its effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, because it had shown promise in animal testing against SARS and MERS, which are from the same coronavirus family.
How it works
Remdesivir is an antiviral that acts as a nucleotide analog, in essence, sneaking into the virus’s genome instead of adenosine (a building block in cellular replication), which in turn short circuits the process.
In a trial with 1,000 subjects, it was found that patients on the drug had a 31% faster time to recovery. In essence, hospitalized COVID-19 patients with respiratory distress got better quicker than those on a placebo.
It’s not a miracle cure, but it is a step in the right direction, proof that there is light at the end of this specific tunnel and it will eventually lead to a better, more effective drug.
COVID-19: List of those in the race for a vaccine
CanSino Biological/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
Last week, the Hong-Kong listed CanSino Biological said that it’s taking its vaccine candidate for Ebola into phase 2 trials after preliminary safety data showed efficacy against Covid-19. CanSino will develop the vaccine along with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences.
The mRNA platform vaccine of Moderna is the most awaited candidate in the fight against Covid-19. The vaccine has already entered clinical trials in the US. With funding from CEPI**, its tech, according to the company, offers effi cacy, speed of development, production scalability and reliability. A similar technology is being used for vaccines for other infectious diseases.
US-based vaccine maker Inovio said that it has recruited up to 40 volunteers to participate in clinical trials for its anti-Covid-19 vaccine. Use of its candidate had showed “promising immune response to the coronavirus” in animals.
University of Oxford
A vaccine candidate developed for other infectious diseases such as MERS, infl uenza, TB, Chikungunya and Zika has entered phase 1 clinical trials for the novel coronavirus. The university expects to complete the study by May 2021.
US drug giant Pfi zer has made an upfront payment of $185 million to vaccine maker BioNTech for developing its mRNA vaccine. The vaccine is expected to go on human trials this month. The joint venture holds the potential to supply millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020.
Repurposing existing drugs
With vaccines being the need of the hour to combat the Covid-19 virus, a number of companies have come forward to develop potential candidates. Faced with surging infections every day around the globe, some companies are repurposing existing drugs to fast-track a cure. Divya Rajagopal brings you an update on corporates, governments and drug companies which are currently in a race against time to develop a vaccine
The Ahmedabad-based Intas Pharma has said that it is collaborating with a WHO-endorsed study in the prevention of Covid-19 using hydroxychloroquine. The global COPCOV (chloroquine / hydroxychloroquine prevention of COVID-19 in the healthcare setting) study involves 40,000 frontline healthcare workers who are caring for Covid-19 patients and is due to start shortly. COPCOV will be led by scientists from the University of Oxford and funded by the Wellcome Trust
The department of biotechnology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and ICMR are working on developing a vaccine for Covid-19. The consortium will support the development of medical equipment, diagnostics, therapeutics, drugs and vaccines to meet the healthcare challenges of Covid-19. It also said the vaccine development is being supported by three Indian industries. Research on therapeutic and drug development has started.
Rising Pharma, the US partner of Hyderabad-based Laurus Labs, announced on Tuesday its collaborative agreement with the Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the University of Minnesota on a clinical trial exploring hydroxychloroquine as a preventive treatment.
J&J & BARDA
Jansen, the research arm of drugmaker J&J, and USA’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) are investing $1 billion in vaccine development. The experimental work on the candidate will begin from September this year and it will work on the same platform technology which was used for developing the vaccine for Ebola.