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Coronavirus: vaccine could be in record time

The headquarters of Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine against coronavirus disease in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Reuters)
The headquarters of Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine against coronavirus disease in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Reuters)

As part of an almost unmatched medical research project for its ambition and scope, Volunteers from around the world are rolling up their sleeves to receive experimental coronavirus vaccines, just a few months after the virus was identified.

Companies like Inovio and Pfizer They have started conducting the first tests on people to determine if their vaccines are safe. The researchers of the Oxford University in England they are also testing vaccines in humans, and say they could have a list for emergency use possibly in September.

Monday, Modern He announced encouraging results from a safety test of his vaccine on eight volunteers. There were no published data, but the news alone caused hopes to skyrocket..

Animal studies have also raised expectations. The researchers of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center They published a study Wednesday that shows a prototype vaccine protected monkeys from the spread of the virus.

The findings will pave the way for the development of a human vaccine, the researchers said. They have already partnered with Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson.

In laboratories around the world, there is now cautious optimism that a vaccine against coronavirus, and perhaps more than one, will be ready sometime next year.

Scientists are exploring more than one approach to creating the vaccine: at least four. The urgency is so great that they are combining testing phases and shortening a process that normally takes years, sometimes even more than a decade.

The coronavirus It has turned out to be clumsy prey, a stable pathogen with little chance of significantly mutating and dodging a vaccine.

"It's an easier target, which is great news.", said Michael Farzanvirologist of Scripps Research at Jupiter, Florida.

An effective vaccine will be crucial to end the pandemic, who has sickened 4.7 million people worldwide and has killed 324,000 so far. Widespread immunity would allow us to return to life without social distancing and face masks.

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"What people don't realize is that the development of a vaccine usually takes many years, sometimes decades", said Dan Barouchvirologist Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, who was in charge of the monkey trials. "And, therefore, trying to compress the entire process of the vaccine in 12 to 18 months is really unheard of. If that happens, it will be the fastest vaccine development program ever."

More than one hundred investigative teams worldwide are attacking the virus from multiple angles.

A laboratory technician is seen at the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital during research for a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease in Bern, Switzerland (Reuters)
A laboratory technician is seen at the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital during research for a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease in Bern, Switzerland (Reuters)

The Modern vaccine is based on a technology of MRNA relatively new that carries chunks of virus genes to human cells. The goal is for cells to start making a viral protein that the immune system recognizes as foreign. The body would build defenses against that protein, preparing to attack if the coronavirus invades.

Some vaccine manufacturers, including Inovio, are developing vaccines based on variations in DNA of this approach.

But the technology used by both companies has never produced a vaccine approved for clinical use, let alone one that can be manufactured in industrial quantities. Moderna was criticized for making optimistic predictions, based on just a handful of patients, without providing any scientific data.

Other research teams have resorted to more traditional strategies.

Some scientists are using harmless viruses to carry genes from coronavirus cells, forcing them to make proteins that can teach the immune system to take care of the coronavirus. CanSino Biologics, A company of Chinahas begun to test a human coronavirus vaccine that is based on this approach, like the team at the Oxford University.

Other traditional approaches rely on fragments of a protein from coronavirus to make a vaccine, while some use dead, or inactive, versions of the coronavirus full. In ChinaSuch vaccines have already been tested in humans.

Increase quantities

Ensuring vaccines are safe and effective requires large clinical trials that require careful planning and execution. If successful vaccines emerge from those trials, someone will have to do a lot of them.

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Almost everyone on the planet is vulnerable to the new coronavirus. Each person may need two doses of a new vaccine to receive protective immunity. That equates to 16 billion doses.

"When companies promise to have a vaccine in a year or less, I'm not sure what stage they mean", said Akiko Iwasaki, immunobiologist of the Yale University. "I doubt they are talking about global distributions in billions of doses"

Making vaccines is much more complex than manufacturing, for example, shoes or bicycles. Vaccines often require large tanks in which their ingredients are grown, and these have to be kept in sterile conditions. Furthermore, no factory has produced millions of doses of approved vaccines that are manufactured with the cutting-edge technology that companies such as Inovio and Modern.

Plants to make viral vector vaccines have emerged in recent years, including one of Johnson & Johnson in the Netherlands. But meeting the demand for the pandemic would be a huge challenge. Manufacturers have more experience in the mass production of inactive vaccines, made from dead viruses, so this type may be the easiest to produce in large quantities.

Either way, there cannot be a single vaccine. If that happened, the company that manufactured it would have no chance of meeting global demand.

"The hope is that all of them, at a certain level, will be effective, and that is important especially because we need more than one", Held Emilio Emini, director of the vaccines program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is providing financial support to many competing vaccine projects.

(C) The New York TImes.-

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Sam Conley is new to online journalism but she is keen to learn. She is an MBA from a reputed university. She brings together relevant news pieces from various industries. She loves to share quick news updates. She is always in search of interesting news so that she can share them as well to Sunriseread's readers who could enjoy them with their morning coffee.

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