Covid-19 vaccine update – Where are we?

India is at a nascent stage in vaccine development

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

As of 24 May, the Covid-19 cases worldwide have surpassed 5.4 million and continue to grow. Global agencies such as WHO and countries have teamed up to develop vaccines and treatments to slow down the pandemic. Some of the earliest medications, such as antiviral drugs already approved for other conditions, are being used to reduce the disease’s damage, especially in extreme cases. These include Remdesivir, Kaletra that work against HIV, Favipiravir used for influenza, and Arbidol. 


Vaccines development for Covid-19 treatment

According to reports, more than 100 projects worldwide are developing a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus. As of mid-May, eight candidate vaccines have proceeded for mostly Phase 1 human clinical trials. 


– In March 2020, US-based Moderna began testing its messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine in a Phase 1 clinical trial. In mid-May, it announced that the vaccine had produced antibodies in all trial participants in the initial clinical phase. The company also got permission from the FDA to start a phase II study of its vaccine, and it plans to begin a Phase 3 clinical trial in July. Moreover, the FDA has agreed to fast-track the regulatory review of this vaccine if it succeeds in a Phase 3 clinical trial.


– American biotechnology company, Inovio Pharmaceuticalshad already been working on a DNA-based vaccine for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) caused by another coronavirus during December. The company announced the success of phase I clinical trials at the end of April and is now heading for phase II and III clinical trial this summer.


– The Swedish-British drugmaker, AstraZeneca, has partnered with the University of Oxford to develop and distribute the university’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate. The candidate vaccine, known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, underwent human trials in April. Earlier trials indicated that the vaccine was effective against Covid-19 when tested on monkeys and is expecting to begin a late-stage clinical trial by the middle of this year. If the clinical trial is successful, the company plans to deliver 30 million doses by September 2020. However, in news reports on 23 May 2020, Adrian Hill, director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, said on 23 May that an upcoming trial involving 10,000 volunteers, threatened to return ‘no result’ due to low transmission of COVID-19 in the community. “It’s a race against the virus disappearing, and against time,” Hill told a British daily. “At the moment, there’s a 50% chance that we get no result at all.”


– The University of Queensland in Australia is developing a vaccine by growing viral proteins in cell cultures and planned to start preclinical testing stages in early April.


– Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is working on a vaccine of their own. Pfizer will develop a vaccine in collaboration with a German company, and have begun human testing in the US in early May.


– US-based Heat Biologics is developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in collaboration with the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.


– Another leading vaccine maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has collaborated with Sanofi to develop a vaccine candidate jointly. The clinical trials will be launched in the second half of the year.

Sanofi is also working with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to test another vaccine candidate for Covid-19 using its recombinant DNA platform. 


– US-based Altimmune has partnered with the University of Alabama to develop a single-dose, intranasal vaccine for coronavirus. Phase 1 clinical trials will take place in the third quarter


– At the beginning of April 2020, US-based Novavax announced that it had identified a Covid-19 vaccine candidate, and phase 1 clinical study began in mid-May. 


Other treatment approaches

Researchers are also working on other options to treat the novel Coronavirus. These include monoclonal antibodies and blood plasma transfers taken from patients who have recovered from Covid-19 infection. Treatments using stem cells and using immune suppressants are also being tried.


Three drugs received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including Remdesivir, anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (which studies have since shown to be harmful), and Fresenius Propoven 2% emulsion.


On the other hand, clinical trials are underway in the Netherlands and Australia to see the effect of existing tuberculosis and polio vaccines on the novel Coronavirus. Scientists believe that these vaccines might boost the immune system just enough to fight off the new coronavirus, although this theory needs supporting scientific evidence.


Covid-19 vaccine development is at a nascent stage in India 

As Indian firms are scrambling to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, experts feel that research in the country is still at a nascent stage, and any breakthrough is unlikely within a year. Six Indian firms are developing vaccines for Covid-19 in some cases in global collaborations. These include Zydus Cadila (which is working on two vaccines), Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals, and Mynvax.


The CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) director Rakesh Mishra said, “There are lots of ideas and companies initiating vaccine development process, but there is nothing on trial in terms of vaccine candidates.”


According to reports, the novel coronavirus strain was isolated and characterized at the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, Pune. Its vaccine candidate has been transferred to Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) to develop a fully indigenous vaccine for coronavirus. A senior ICMR official told PTI that once the vaccine is ready, it will go for animal trials to be followed by human clinical trials to assess its safety and efficacy, which will take at least one year.



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