The world is racing to build a Coronavirus vaccine as death toll due to the virus outbreak nears 300,000. Countries and organisations have increased their spending and efforts to build a vaccine that could save humanity from what could be the worst pandemic in centuries. Several trials for potential vaccines are underway, but a result is awaited and welcomed from any of them.
From small startups to big pharmaceutical giants and government agencies, a mix of drugmakers and suppliers are working for the development of a Coronavirus vaccine. It is perhaps the best hope of ending the pandemic that has infected over 4.3 million people globally. Two drugs have received emergency use authorization from US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but a vaccine is yet to be identified and approved for human use.
Clinical development is a three-phase process where the vaccine is assessed for its efficiency and human use.
During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine to assess potential effects of the new drug on humans. Most Coronavirus vaccines under development are at this stage.
In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and vaccines are given to people who have characteristics similar to the disease for which it is being developed.
In Phase III, thousands of people receive the vaccine and it is tested for safety and efficiency.
It is after completing these three stages, do vaccines receive authorization for production and use. The long time taken to design and authorize a vaccine is necessary to identify and separate any possible side effects of the said drug on human health.
As on 13 May 2020, about 30 countries and bio-labs are working on a COVID-19 vaccine. While most of them are in Phase 1 of trials, some have also reached Phase 2 and a few, phase 3.
FDA approved Kevzara, a treatment developed by Regeneron and Sanofi is among the first drugs to enter Phase 3 of development process. The company is using Kevzara as a treatment for patients who have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infections. The trial is expected to enrol up to 400 candidates. Early results from a small 21-patient trial conducted in China have been positive if not all successful.
CytoDyn Inc, a preclinical biotechnology company based in Vancouver has also given Coronavirus trial update to have entered Phase 3 of clinical trials of Coronavirus vaccine. The company is using an experimental therapy to treat COVID-19 patients which was developed to use for treatment of HIV and a form of metastatic breast cancer.
Market leader Gilead Sciences’s Remdesivir drug has received emergency use authorization from the US FDA to treat COVID-19 patients. The drug is claimed to reduce recovery time in patients with novel Coronavirus infection. However, experts have mixed opinions about the efficacy and use of the drug. Gilead is known to develop the world’s first potent Hepatitis-C drug and HIV effective medications. Many experts are eyeing the company to be first in developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
Experts claim that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be available by September 2020 but nothing concrete can be stated as of now. While the world rushes to deliver a cure, some leaders and scientists have asserted that a vaccine may not be available for next few years given the complexity of virus and the lengthy process it takes to develop a drug.
While we hope for a breakthrough, a mass vaccine or treatment could be months or years away. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine.
However, initial reports by biotech firms indicate that a vaccine is not far, if the development process is not hindered. Some countries have reported modified genomes of the new virus is making it hard for virologists to create a vaccine as novel Coronavirus might change its form and structure even after a treatment is developed.
Coronavirus vaccines in India, UK, Italy, and China have all shown good results and they may soon go for Phase 2/3 of developmental process.
While scientists race to develop a Coronavirus vaccine and treatment, all we can do is follow preventive guidelines to stay clear of the infection. Following basic hygiene measures and social distancing is being considered as the best preventive measure for Coronavirus. As more countries open their lockdowns it will become essential to follow safety norms until a vaccine is developed to support the globe fight COVID-19 pandemic.