In the second week of December of 2019, a novel coronavirus case was identified in a small local fish and animal market in Wuhan city, Hubei province in China. Until then, the word “Corona” was only heard when people use to order a refreshing beer after hectic work. As the disease has infected a humungous population, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic in March 2020. According to the recent statistics by worldometers, around 4.47 million people are infected with coronavirus globally, and the death toll rises to 300,000. Parallel, the scientists around the world are working around the clock in pursuit of developing a vaccine that can save millions of lives. Moreover, different scientific communities are collaborating their research work to develop a fast-tracked vaccine. This article will help us to understand the candidate vaccines that are being developed ad interim and their current therapeutic potential. Additionally, the article also shed some light on the protective measures required to prevent the spread of this contagious disease.
How vaccines are developed
Developing a vaccine against COVID-19 is a need of an hour because this disease is highly infectious, and the world is still vulnerable to it. The vaccine will help in training the immune system of people to fight against the virus and acquire desired immunity for future infections. However, developing a novel vaccine is not a piece of cake. Generally, a vaccine development takes around 10-15 years that involves exploratory phase, pre-clinical stage, clinical development, regulatory review and approval, manufacturing and quality control. All these processes make this processing pipeline cumbersome. Even after the development, the constant tracking of the vaccine becomes crucial to report any side effects if they arise. For example, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) analyses the information on the side effects after the administration of US licensed vaccines. On April 20, WHO released a draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines, which included 5 vaccines that are under clinical evaluation and 71 vaccines under pre-clinical evaluation. Here, we will be looking at some of the most promising candidate vaccines.
Vaccines status (A Hope)
University of Oxford:
The University of Oxford Jenner Institute has developed a candidate vaccine under the name ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19’. The researchers have conducted trials on mice and rhesus macaques and showed that the vaccine induces an immune response against SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. This vaccine uses a combination of an attenuated strain of the common cold virus with the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2. This will help the body to identify the spike protein of the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, Phase-1 trails of the vaccine began on April 23 where the vaccine was injected into healthy individuals of United Kingdom to test its safety and efficacy. Moreover, the university has partnered with AstraZeneca, a UK based Biopharmaceutical Company for further development, manufacture and distribution.
ModernaTX, a Massachusetts based Biotech Company:
ModernaTX, a Massachusetts based Biotech Company in the US, is developing a candidate vaccine named mRNA- 1273 that was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). mRNA-1273 is a lipid nanoparticle encapsulated mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic Acid) vaccine which carries the information to encode the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 inside the human cells. Once, the protein is recognised by the body; the immune system kicks in. According to sources of USA Today, the Phase-1 trails of the vaccine has already been conducted and received a fast-tracked approval for Phase-2 trials from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Phase-2 trials will enrol 600 healthy volunteers of age groups 18-55 years (50%) and the rest over 55 years old. Also, the company is finalising the protocols for Phase-3 trials that are expected to commence in the early summers of 2020.
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China a top contender in vaccine development
CanSino Biologics, a biopharmaceutical company of china, has claimed to develop a DNA based candidate vaccine named Ad5 nCOV. This is a hybrid vaccine made of a “live virus”; used as a vector and a ‘recombinant protein’; which will trigger antibodies production against the Corona Virus in the patient’s body. The Chinese vaccine has been considered as a leading contender in the global race for vaccine development by WHO. The vaccine has already cleared Phase-1 trials successfully, which can be seen in the Chinese clinical registry. Furthermore, the company has already begun the Phase-2 trials on 500 patients, but it is still unclear whether the tests are completed or not. Recently, CanSino has made a deal with National Council Research of Canada to advance bioprocessing and development of the vaccine in Canada.
A partnership of US and Germany- A new hope
Pfizer, an American multinational pharmaceutical company, has partnered with a German biotechnology company BioNtech to work on mRNA based vaccine which was initially developed by BioNtech. The vaccine development program includes four vaccine candidates, which are being tested simultaneously to identify the most promising one. Also, the Phase1/2 trials have already been initiated in Germany with 200 participants and in the US with 360 participants. The Paul-Ehrlich-Institute in Germany approved Phase-1/2 trials of BNT162 (a candidate vaccine among the four candidates) vaccine. The collaborators started the human trials in the US, which began from May 5 that was noted in an announcement. Pfizer and BioNtech are also competing against their rivals Moderna and CureVac to develop and manufacture, a COVID vaccine derived from mRNA platform.
Another American based Biotechnology Company Inovio Pharmaceuticals is also in the race of vaccine development. They are developing a DNA based vaccine under the name INO-4800, which is delivered using their proprietary platform CELLECTRA. This platform delivers optimised DNA into cells, which gets translated into a protein product and then activates the individual’s immune system and generate targeted T-cells and antibodies. This will, in turn, helps in strengthening the individual’s immune system and won’t change the individual’s own DNA. The Phase-1 trials were conducted in collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which included 40 participants. The trials were conducted to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity of INO-4800, whose preliminary results are expected in late June. The Phase-2/3 efficacy trials will start this summer after the regulatory approval.
Vaccine status in India
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has partnered with Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine is being developed using a virus strain isolated in National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune and has been transferred to BBIL successfully. However, there are no updates regarding the pre-clinical trials. Also, Pune based world’s largest vaccine manufacturing by volume, Serum Institute of India (SII) had claimed to achieve a breakthrough in developing a vaccine against the Coronavirus contagion. The CEO of SII Adar Poonawala said that the vaccine had reached pre clinical trials, i.e. animal trials and are expecting to get the results very soon. Moreover, they have partnered with US-based drug research company Codagenix last February to develop a live-attenuated vaccine (vaccine in which the virulence of the pathogen is minimised, but the pathogen is kept alive) to fight the disease. The company claims that the vaccine may be market-ready by 2022.
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What to do in the meantime to protect ourselves from disease
A vaccine that usually takes more than a decade to enter the market is now under a fast-tracked process so that the world could receive the treatment against this pandemic. Even if this becomes a reality, the effectiveness of the vaccine is not guaranteed. Therefore, in the meantime, being a responsible citizen of this planet it is our prime duty to take the necessary steps to prevent the further spread of this disease. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the viability of the virus varies on different surfaces. It was reported that the virus was most viable on the steel and plastic surfaces for up to 3 days. Hence, scheduled cleaning of such surfaces in homes and workplaces must be made mandatory to prevent any chances of infection. Furthermore, the WHO and other organisations have issued some guidelines to ensure the safety of the citizens that includes;
1. Avoid touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes.
2. Washing hands frequently and carefully, especially after contact with infected people or their environment.
3. Cover your mouth while coughing and sneezing.
4. Take social distancing seriously by maintaining a 6 feet gap from other people.
5. Self – quarantine if you are sick and wear mask and gloves when going out to seek medical care.
The wrath of corona pandemic have shook the world and made us realise that we are the guests on this planet, just like other creatures. We also learnt a lesson that even the most advanced technology is sometimes not enough to save a life. The world is still vulnerable to this contagion pandemic, and many more lives are at stake. However, in such a crisis, the researchers across the globe are searching for a cure which is a painstaking task. Indeed they have come up with some candidate vaccines that may give us a ray of hope, but still, a lot of safety assessment is required before using them on people. Therefore, a more structured analysis of the virus and its life cycle is required to accelerate the development of drugs. In the meantime, following the guidelines from WHO and other organisations is necessary to protect ourselves and others too. Every single life is precious and we must do our best to save it.
– Rohit Nautiyal, M.E Biotechnology student, BITS –
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