As the coronavirus rises from a regional crisis toward a global pandemic with thousands of people infected across more than 50 countries, scientists are racing to develop a vaccine to prevent the infection.
Although physicians still have no vaccine or cure for the virus, pharmaceutical and biotech companies around the world are working hard to develop potential vaccines after obtaining genetic information about the virus.
Doctors around the world have been trying a combination of HIV and flu drugs.
The World Health Organization's director-general said on Friday that more than 20 potential vaccines aimed at preventing coronavirus disease were in development around the world. But health officials have consistently said it will take at least a year before any vaccine is proven effective and gets necessary approvals for wide distribution.
And by the time a vaccine clinically proves its worth and is manufactured on a large scale, it could be too late to make a significant dent in the course of the epidemic.
WHO officials think ‘remdesivir’ vaccine could work
According to WHO officials, American biotech firm Gilead’s remdesivir has demonstrated efficacy in treating infection.
"There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir," said Bruce Aylward, a WHO assistant director-general, at a recent press conference in Beijing.
WHO officials added that clinical trials for remdesivir in humans are now taking place at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and results could be available within weeks.
First coronavirus vaccine in China due for trial late April
The first coronavirus vaccine in China known as Favilavir is expected to be ready for clinical trials by the end of April, according to Xu Nanping, China’s vice-minister of science and technology.
Favilavir is the first approved coronavirus drug in China, with the National Medical Products Administration of China approving the use of it as a treatment for coronavirus. The drug has reportedly shown efficacy in treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial involving 70 patients.
The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, according to Clinical Trials Arena.
Other vaccines in development
Several other firms are working on developing vaccines:
- US biotech firm Moderna has said the phase 1 trial of an experimental vaccine it developed could start in April. The company has already sent the vaccine to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- The US-based Tonix Pharmaceuticals has teamed up with Southern Research, a non-profit research organisation, to develop a vaccine named TNX1800. Southern Research will be responsible for evaluating the efficacy of the vaccine.
- Innovation Pharmaceuticals, another US-based company, has announced that it is evaluating Brilacidin as a potential treatment for coronavirus. Brilacidin has shown antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties in several clinical trials. The company is planning to explore research collaborations and seek federal grants to develop the drug.
- Israel-based MIGAL Research Institute has announced that an Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) vaccine developed to treat avian coronavirus has been modified to treat coronavirus. The vaccine has demonstrated efficacy in pre-clinical trials conducted by the Volcani Institute.
- In another development, InovioPharma has collaborated with Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology Company to advance the development of the former’s vaccine, INO-4800, as a coronavirus vaccine. The company has started pre-clinical testing for clinical product manufacturing. The vaccine development is supported by a $9m grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Inovio aims to progress the vaccine through phase one human testing in the US to test safety and efficacy while Beijing Advaccine plans a phase one clinical trial in China.
- Clover Biopharmaceuticals is developing a recombinant subunit vaccine using its patented Trimer-Tag technology. The company is developing the vaccine based on the trimeric S protein (S-Trimer) of coronavirus. Clover is also collaborating with GSK to develop a vaccine using the latter’s pandemic adjuvant system.
- Vaxart, a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing oral recombinant vaccines administered by tablet rather than by injection, announced that it has initiated a program to develop a coronavirus vaccine candidate based on its proprietary oral vaccine platform, VAAST.
Since all vaccines to prevent infections are in the development stage at the moment, the best way of protecting yourself is through good hygiene.