Governments, pharmaceutical companies and Universities are collaborating in a race against time to develop a safe and effective vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus has claimed in excess of 450 000 lives with more than 9 million infections globally.
According to the World Health Organisation, of the more than 130 vaccine candidates worldwide, just 13 have been approved for human trials.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) June 22, 2020
The goal is a simple one – to develop a safe and effective vaccine that is easy to replicate and produce en-masse, with Governments providing billions in financing with some optimistic projections that one could be available before the year’s end.
The WHO’s Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan says: “So, the WHO is working on a fair allocation mechanism which we’re discussing with our member states to see can countries all come to an agreement of how you share a limited supply of vaccine. Let’s say you have 50 or 100 million doses at the end of this year, ok? How should the world share that? Should it go only to the countries which have paid for it, or are capable of paying for it to cover their own populations or should it go to protect frontline health workers or the most vulnerable people, whether they are the elderly or whether they are people with other diseases.”
Of the leading candidates to date is Oxford University and AstraZeneca that has moved to a Phase 2 and 3 human trial, scoring 1.2 billion dollars in funding from the US Government.
Moderna Therapeutics’ first clinical trial in the US showed the vaccine triggering a strong immune response and aims to complete its trails by the year’s end.
China’s CanSino Biologics Phase 1 and 2 trials showed the vaccine produced a strong immune response
While similar immune responses have been observed in other trials being conducted in the US, Europe and China.
Wang Junzhi of the China Vaccine Development Group says: “At present, five COVID-19 vaccines developed by China have entered clinical trials, and three of them have completed the phase 2 clinical trials. All the processes of research and development, the evaluation criteria, and technical guidelines to ensure safety and effectiveness are in compliance with international standards. The next step is to actively conduct the phase 3 clinical trials, and to obtain the data on the effective protection rate among a large population, which is critical to the eventual success in developing the vaccines.”
Concern has been raised that as the virus declines in certain parts of the world like Europe, the pool of viable participants in trials is also a problem scientists are grappling with.
CEO of pharma company Astrazeneca, Pascal Soriot says: “Now, the problem we will all have I think is we are running against time a little bit. Because we see already in Europe the disease is declining. It is still going in the UK because the UK started later. Still going in the US. But very soon the disease’s intensity, if you will, will be low, and it will become difficult, so we have to move very quickly. And if the disease gets to a very low level, maybe challenge studies will have to be considered. But we felt it’s too early today to do that.”
As the politics and science of vaccine development seems to be heading for a showdown amidst calls for a people’s vaccine that’s distributed fairly around the world.
President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen says: “We will explore with our international partners whether a significant number of countries would agree to pool resources for jointly reserving future vaccines from companies, while at the same time making advanced reservations for low and middle income countries. The high-income countries would then act as an inclusive international buyers’ group. They would thus accelerate the development of safe and effective vaccines and help maximize access to them across the world for all who need it.”
With experts believing that a complete economic recovery will only be possible once a vaccine is available, the urgency combined with safety and efficacy is a key mix that must be closely and meticulously observed.