Health, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Efforts to find virus vaccine going on worldwide

Companies, health institutions around the world are working towards a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19

Emre Aytekin   | 17.04.2020
Efforts to find virus vaccine going on worldwide


Efforts to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus pandemic are ongoing around the world.

In the U.S. and China, 3 types of vaccines are being tested on humans in clinics, and 67 potential vaccines are being developed, according to WHO data.

The second phase of clinical testing of a potential vaccine developed by China's Military Medical Academy has started in Wuhan, the origin point of the virus.

Vaccines developed by U.S. drug companies Moderna and Inovio are in the first phase of their clinical testing.

The disease nearly caused daily life to stop all around the world, for that reason finding a vaccine to the novel coronavirus is critical.

Since the virus first emerged, many health institutions have been working to develop a vaccine. Many international organizations have promised financial support worth millions of dollars.

- DNA sequencing of the virus accelerated vaccine research

After China announced the DNA sequencing of the virus on Jan. 11, many researchers around the world have produced genetic copies and started working on them.

Knowing the genetic sequencing of the virus accelerated the preparations for vaccine development.

Understanding that COVID-19's genetic structure is similar to that of SARS to a great extent enabled scientists to make use of vaccine researches that was done for SARS.

- First vaccine tested on humans: mRNA-1273

Moderna drug company based in Boston, U.S. on Jan. 13 announced it developed a potential vaccine called "mRNA-1273", two days after China announced the genetic sequence of COVID-19.

Developed with the support of U.S. National Allergy and Infectious Diseases Institute (NIAID), this vaccine aimed to strengthen the immune system, by pressuring the "spike protein" enzyme, which enables COVID-19 to hold on to human cells.

After FDA's approval, clinical testing of the vaccine started in Washington on March 17, thus making mRNA-1273 the first prospective vaccine to be tested on humans.

45 male and female volunteers, ages ranging between 18-45, attended the first clinical testing. The vaccine will be done to them with 28 days intervals, on dosages of 25, 100 and 250 micrograms respectively.

The first subject that was given the first dosage on March 17, has been given the second dosage on April 14. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIAID, said they haven't encountered a negative response in the first phase until now, and they hope to start the second phase of the vaccine testing in June.

- China became first country to start second phase vaccine testing

China on March 17 announced it approved the clinical testing of a vaccine they developed.

Developed by China Military Medical Academy, this vaccine is a "subsidiary vaccine", and it includes COVID-19 antigens which do not cause any illness.

These subsidiary vaccines contain a part of the virus that cannot reproduce itself, unlike "unit" vaccines, which contain the weakened version of an illness-causing pathogen of the virus.

Subsidiary vaccines are more reliable than unit vaccines, and they are weaker in terms of immunity effects.

After the first phase of clinical testing is completed in March, the second phase has started in Wuhan on April 9.

500 volunteers attended the second phase vaccine testing at the University of Zhongnan in Wuhan, the eldest of whom is 84 years old.

If the second phase is successful, the third phase will test more then 1000 subjects.

- Potential vaccine was produced three hours after DNA sequence was announced

Three hours after DNA sequence was announced, U.S. drug company Inovio said on Jan. 11 that they produced a potential vaccine, copying the COVID-19 DNA sequence.

This DNA-based vaccine called "INO-4800" aims to invoke immunity, using an artificial model of the virus produced by genetic engineers.

Inovio also developed a potential vaccine called "INO-4700" against the MERS virus.

The company announced on Jan. 23 they received a 9 million dollar grant from U.S. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). On Jan. 30 it said they will collaborate with Chinese biotech company Advaccine based in Beijing, in mass production.

Inovio announced on April 6 that first phase clinical testing has started for INO-4800. 40 adult volunteers attended the tests in Philadelphia and Kansas, and the subjects will be given two doses of vaccines with 4-week intervals.

The company expects to receive results by the end of the summer. It also aims at doing their clinical tests to China and South Korea, and if results are positive, it will produce 1 million doses of vaccines by the end of 2020.

- No early results are expected

The fact that clinical testing has started does not mean the vaccines will be produced in the short term.

The first stage of the three stages, tested on a limited number of voluntary healthy subjects, looks for possible side effects and asks if the vaccine is completely safe.

The second stage tests the vaccine, which is proved to be safe in the first stage, on more than 100 subjects.

The third and last stage repeats the same on a couple of thousand subjects. The whole process might take months, even years.

- 'Although the situation is urgent, we cannot lower standards'

Dr. Fauci, also a part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said the vaccine is hoped to be produced in 12 to 18 months, and it has to prove fully effective and safe.

Chinese biological medicine expert Wang Junzhi said: "Although we are in a state of emergency we cannot lower standards in terms of safety and effectiveness of the vaccines."

The pandemic has killed over 147,000 people and infected some 2.18 million, while more than 555,000 have recovered from the disease, according to figures compiled by the U.S.’ Johns Hopkins University.

*Writing by Firdevs Bulut

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