Early progress has been reported on several vaccine efforts, as scientists around the world scramble to test possible ways to protect people from the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 5.1 million people globally and killed more than 300,000.
Vaccine candidates developed by pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Inovio as well as vaccines in the works from the University of Oxford in the U.K. and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in China are showing early promise. But experts continue to stress that it’s still early in the testing phase, and it’s unlikely that a viable vaccine will be available before the end of the year.
Here's a roundup of the most notable vaccine news of the week.
Massachusetts-based Moderna reported Monday that their vaccine candidate prompted an immune response in the human body and was safely tolerated among a small group of volunteers in phase 1 clinical trials.
Eight participants in the first trial were shown to develop neutralizing antibodies — which are thought to play a key role in protecting people from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — at comparable levels to individuals who were sick and have since recovered.
The initial tests, which involved 45 patients, aimed to show that the potential vaccine can be safely administered. Phase 2 trials will now evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine candidate.
The news caused a surge in Moderna’s stock, but some experts said expectations should still be tempered. Scientists told Stat News that not enough information was disclosed about the phase 1 trials, including the results from other participants in the small group. The company’s announcement also lacked details on how durable the antibody response was, and at what dosage.
Top infectious disease expert responds
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, addressed concerns about the Moderna announcement in an interview with NPR even though he said he is optimistic about the early results.
Fauci said data from the study is being compiled and will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, as is standard practice as part of the scientific process. But he added that the preliminary results are an encouraging step in the vaccine development process.
“Having looked at the data myself, it is really quite promising,” he told NPR.
University of Oxford
A vaccine candidate developed by scientists at the University of Oxford is moving into the second and third phases of clinical trials.
Researchers are continuing to monitor 1,000 volunteers from the first phase of testing, but the U.K. government has allowed the project to proceed into the advanced stages of human trials. The second phase is expected to launch June 1 in the U.K., with plans to subsequently begin trials in the United States as well.
In these next phases, Oxford scientists are aiming to test the vaccine candidate in more than 10,260 volunteers in the U.K. across a wider range of ages.
The university has partnered with the British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca to manufacture and distribute the vaccine if the trials are successful. AstraZeneca received more than $1 billion Thursday from the U.S. Department of Health’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority as part of these efforts.
Pennsylvania-based Inovio Pharmaceutical Inc. announced Wednesday that its vaccine candidate produced antibody responses in mice and guinea pigs.
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“We saw antibody responses that do many of the things we would want to see in an eventual vaccine,” Dr. David Weiner, director of the vaccine and immunotherapy center at the Wistar Institute, which has collaborated with Inovio, told Reuters. “We are able to target things that would prevent the virus from having a safe harbor in the body.”
The company began human trials of the experimental vaccine in April, and preliminary results from those tests are expected to be revealed in June. If successful, Inovio officials said they expect to move into Phase 2 and 3 trials in July or August.
Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
Researchers at the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in China reported that their vaccine candidate produced neutralizing antibodies and rapid immune responses, and was safely tolerated, in Phase 1 human trials.
The initial tests involved 108 healthy participants, and the early results detail antibody and immune responses after 28 days. The results were published Friday in the journal The Lancet. The study’s researchers said final results will be evaluated in six months, but further trials are needed to assess whether the experimental vaccine can effectively protect against COVID-19.