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Race to make drugs, vaccines against coronavirus heats up

To be sure, there are no licensed vaccines or therapeutics for COVID-19 available at this point in time

February 27, 2020 / 08:20 PM IST

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker by volumes, early this month said it expects to be ready with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by early 2022.

Serum has partnered with US-based clinical-stage biotechnology company Codagenix to rapidly co-develop a live-attenuated vaccine against the emergent coronavirus. Live-attenuated vaccines contain live but weakened virus.

“A live-attenuated vaccine has multiple advantages, including mounting an immune response to multiple antigens of the virus and the ability to scale for mass production,” both companies said in a joint statement.

To be sure, there are no licensed vaccines or therapeutics for COVID-19 available at this point of time. But the race to develop drugs and vaccines against coronavirus has caught the fascination of large and small companies.

Gilead Sciences, known for breakthrough antiviral drugs is ahead of the race.

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Gilead Sciences has begun two Phase III or late-stage clinical trials of its investigational antiviral drug, remdesivir, for the treatment of COVID-19 in adults.

Remdesivir was originally meant for treating Ebola disease.

The trials will mainly be conducted on 1,000 patients at sites in Asian countries impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. From March, sites will be added in other countries with a higher number of confirmed cases.

One of the trials will enrol around 400 patients with severe clinical manifestations of the novel coronavirus disease, while the second trial will involve about 600 patients with moderate clinical manifestations.

World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed optimism on the efficacy of Gilead’s drug.

"There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that’s remdesivir," WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward said during a press conference in Beijing on February 24.

The USFDA accepted and reviewed the company’s investigational new drug (IND) application for remdesivir in this indication.

It isn’t Gilead or Serum alone. Others such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has announced the initiation of three programmes to develop vaccines against coronavirus.

India is the founding member of CEPI.

For developing these vaccines, CEPI has partnered with US-based biotech companies Inovio and Moderna, and the University of Queensland, Australia.

Inovio already has a partnership with CEPI for developing DNA vaccine candidates against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which is also caused by a family of coronavirus. Moderna will manufacture an mRNA vaccine against nCoV-2019, which will be funded by CEPI.

Johnson & Johnson and GSK also have evinced interest in developing vaccines.

For immediate treatment, doctors and researchers in China and Thailand have started treating patients with a HIV-drug combination lopinavir and ritonavir, along with anti-flu drug oseltamivir. Many more trial cocktails of HIV drugs are also tested on patients.

COVID-19 causes mild to severe respiratory illness, with symptoms including cough and fever. Around 2,814 people have died and 82,585 confirmed cases were reported. Around 95 percent of the COVID-19 cases were from China, but the disease spreading fast in outside China in countries like South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan, threatening the world trade and economy.

Until an effective vaccine becomes available, the transmission of the virus can be prevented by frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and quarantining the suspects who have come into contact with the disease.

Peter Piot, Professor of Global Health and Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told Moneycontrol last week that vaccine can possibly be available by the next outbreak.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Feb 27, 2020 08:20 pm

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