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Coronavirus crisis | These four COVID-19 vaccines are ahead of the pack

Over 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are currently under development, but four are ahead of the pack.

May 12, 2020 / 12:32 AM IST

The race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 is intensifying globally.

Over 100 potential coronavirus vaccines are currently under development, but four vaccines are ahead of the pack. Here are the frontrunners:

Oxford University vaccine

One of the potential vaccines against COVID-19 is also known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. It was developed by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, at the University of Oxford.

The vaccine uses weakened version of chimpanzee adenovirus as vector, infused with the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Adenovirus causes common cold. After vaccination, the SARS-CoV-2 surface spike protein is produced, which alerts the immune system to attack COVID-19.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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University of Oxford has been working on vaccines on MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), diseases which are caused by coronaviruses. So, it immediately jumped into the fray to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it saw the outbreak. This gave it a lead time over other vaccine makers.

It entered phase-1 clinical trials last week to study safety and efficacy in healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55 years, across five trial centres in Southern England. The phase-1 data will be out this month, which will be followed by phase-2 and 3 trials. These will involve larger number of volunteers to determine the vaccine’s efficacy.

The Serum Institute of India has been closely working with University of Oxford. Serum will manufacture the vaccine and if everything goes as per the plan, they may bring out the vaccine by October.

Also read: With pressure growing, global race for a coronavirus vaccine intensifies

Moderna RNA vaccine

The Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna’s vaccine candidate is cruising ahead of the original schedule. The Moderna vaccine is based on a novel approach, wherein the company injects the specially designed messenger RNA (genetic material) produces viral protein or antigen. The antigen provokes the immune system, thereby helping the body to defend itself against COVID-19.

The company has been doing phase-1 trails and has received the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) nod to begin phase-2. Moderna also plans to begin phase-3 by this summer. The vaccine is easy to manufacture, but could be expensive and supplies will be tightly controlled by US government.

Moderna has raised plenty of money, with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the US government recently giving it around $483 million.

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Pfizer vaccine

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are working on four vaccine candidates, each representing a different combination of messenger RNA method and target antigen.

The novel design of the trial allows for evaluation of the various mRNA candidates simultaneously in order to identify the safest and potentially most efficacious candidate in a greater number of volunteers.

Pfizer started dosing its experimental COVID-19 vaccine on first participants in the US in phase-1 and phase-2 clinical trial for the BNT162 vaccine program. Pfizer will enroll up to 360 healthy subjects into two age cohorts of 18-55 year and 65-85 years.

The company has said that has begun delivering doses of their coronavirus vaccine to candidates for initial human testing in the United States. Trials in Germany had already begun.

Even though the drug is still under testing, Pfizer is readying plans to manufacture millions of vaccine doses in 2020, increasing it to hundreds of millions in 2021.

If successful, Pfizer said it hopes to receive emergency use authorization from the USFDA as early as October. It could distribute up to 20 million doses by the end of 2020 and potentially hundreds of millions next year, it said.

The shift to outside production of other medicines will primarily affect vaccines and intravenous drugs. Pfizer currently produces around 1.5 billion doses of intravenously injected vaccines and drugs each year.

Also read: In race to get COVID-19 vaccine, are we setting the bar low?

Sinovac Biotech vaccine

The Chinese biopharmaceutical company is also doing phase-1 and phase-2 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company said it is also in discussion with regulators in other countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO), to launch phase-3 clinical trials in regions where the novel coronavirus is still spreading rapidly.

Sinovac is also ahead in the race, as it was previously developing a vaccine against SARS, the 2003 pandemic that also originated in China and is caused by a type of coronavirus. The company had to abandon the development at the phase-1 stage as that outbreak was contained.

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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: May 10, 2020 03:15 pm
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