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Coronavirus vaccine: White House narrows focus, a billionaire scientist jumps in the race

Here is a roundup of the most notable vaccine news of the first week of June.
Image: Vaccine research
Doctor Paul McKay works on an vaccine for the 2019-nCoV strain of the novel coronavirus in a research lab at Imperial College School of Medicine (ICSM) in London on Feb. 10, 2020.Tolga Akmen / AFP - Getty Images

Global efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine continue, even as mass protests against racial injustice and police brutality persist in cities across the United States and around the world, raising concerns that the gatherings could spark new waves of infection.

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to nearly 6.3 million worldwide, experts reaffirmed their hope that at least one promising vaccine candidate could be identified by the end of the year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, that he hopes the U.S. will have “a couple hundred million doses” of a potential vaccine by the beginning of 2021.

Though several vaccine candidates are progressing through human clinical trials, it’s still too early to know if any can effectively protect people from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Fauci added that even if an effective vaccine is identified, it’s not known how long-lasting the immunity will be.

“When you look at the history of coronaviruses, the common coronaviruses that cause the common cold, the reports in the literature are that the durability of immunity that’s protective ranges from three to six months to almost always less than a year,” he said, as reported by CNBC. “That’s not a lot of durability and protection.”

Here is a roundup of the most notable vaccine news of the week.

White House focuses on 5 vaccine projects

The Trump administration has reportedly chosen to focus its support on five candidates, in a bid to have a potential vaccine widely available by January 2021.

According to The New York Times, the narrowed list includes candidates being developed by Moderna, the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson. The government is providing financial support for these projects as part of its goal to have 300 million doses of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine available by early next year — an initiative that has been dubbed Operation Warp Speed.

Both Moderna and the University of Oxford are expected to proceed into advanced stages of human trials of their respective vaccines this summer. White House officials are expected to formally announce this development in the next few weeks, the Times reported, including how a potential vaccine would be manufactured and subsequently administered widely in the U.S.

Billionaire scientist enters vaccine race

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong , the billionaire physician and entrepreneur who owns The Los Angeles Times and is a part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, announced that he is mobilizing two of his companies to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine.

The companies, NantKwest and ImmunityBio, have not published any of their vaccine research, but he said May 27 that the experimental vaccine is being assessed by Operation Warp Speed.

Soon-Shiong said the project was selected for monkey tests facilitated by a national lab, but the Department of Health and Human Services has not confirmed that development, as reported by Science.

AstraZeneca aims to manufacture 2 billion doses of its vaccine

British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca is planning to produce 2 billion doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine and could deliver the first drugs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in September or October, according to CNBC.

AstraZeneca has partnered with the University of Oxford to develop a vaccine candidate and the project has received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Health’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. AstraZeneca said Thursday that 400 million doses could be distributed by the end of the year.

The company also said it has committed 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries, as part of a licensing agreement with the Serum Institute of India.

The manufacturing timeline is contingent, however, on the results of human clinical trials. The British government has allowed the project to proceed into the advanced stages of human trials, set to begin this summer.