With so much bad news regarding negative COVID-19 trends, it can foster feelings of despair and helplessness. Let’s switch gears for a moment and accentuate the positive. The response to develop vaccines for COVID-19 is unprecedented. Currently, there are over 100 possible vaccines being developed and tested.
It is highly unusual for a vaccine to be developed in less than five years. George Yancopoulos of Regeneron noted, “Most people don’t realize that successfully inventing and developing any new drug or vaccine is quantifiably among the hardest things that human beings try to do.” Clinical development alone involves a minimum of three phases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety. With some current estimates including vaccines that may be available by the end of 2020, developments in this area have been fast and furious.
On May 15, Operation Warp Speed was announced. Initiated by the federal government, it is a public-private partnership dedicated to the rapid advancement of COVID-19 vaccines through funding and coordinated support. In particular, the goal is the development of vaccines by the end of 2020.
The plan is to narrow down the field and pick five to seven finalists. Thus far, there are five front-runners with some already receiving funding.
a. Moderna: This proposed vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) instead of any form of the virus itself. The virus has a particular protein called a spike protein associated with it. The mRNA prompts a person’s cells to generate a copy of the spike protein, in essence, tricking the body in to thinking it has been infected and prompting the immune response. Moderna will begin Phase III testing in July with 30,000 volunteers. The company confirmed that all volunteers in earlier trials, once given the vaccine, met or exceeded the level of antibodies capable of neutralizing the virus. If approved, they anticipate production capacity of 500 million doses per year.
b. University of Oxford and AstraZeneca: This potential vaccine uses a weakened version of the adenovirus and genes from the spike protein associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, to encourage production of anti-bodies in the recipient. There are plans to start Phase III trials in July. AstraZeneca estimates they can provide 2 billion doses throughout the world, with 400 million throughout Europe and 700 million in the United States, with some by the end of 2020.
c. Johnson & Johnson: Through Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, Johnson & Johnson has developed a potential vaccine that is comprised of grafting genes from the novel corona virus with a weakened adenovirus to prompt human immune response. They plan to begin human trials in July and have requested expedited approval to begin Phase III trials dependent upon the outcome of Phase I results. If approved, the company is committed to providing more than one billion doses globally, per year.
d. BioNTech and Pfizer: BioNTech and Pfizer have partnered to create four potential vaccines using mRNA in various ways. Phase I / II trials are already being conducted and if approved, Pfizer is estimating production of millions of doses in 2020 and more in 2021.
e. Merck: Merck is collaborating with other companies in the vaccine development stages, including an effort that could produce an oral vaccine.
Though it may be hard to grasp with the swirl of negativity, not all COVID-19 news is bad news. Researchers and medical professionals the world over are focused on the common goals of cures and vaccines.
The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute the providing of medical advice nor is it intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional with any physical or mental health questions or concerns you may have.