COVID-19, a highly infectious disease caused by a coronavirus and that began in Wuhan, China has now infected more than 7.4 million people globally, with deaths being over 400,000. The disease has led to shut down of many businesses as many countries go into lockdown in efforts to contain the spread of the disease. The pandemic has halted significant events, including sports and trade, which has led to increased pressure on scientists to develop vaccines. A vaccine protects the body before it is exposed to the virus by training the immune system to recognize and fight the virus. Vaccines are effective in protecting both the person who is vaccinated and the community around them. There is currently no treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus. There is a considerable need for scientists to develop vaccines for COVID-19 to slow the pandemic and create an environment where people can go back to their normal lives.
Currently, the only drugs being used are those approved for other conditions and those that have already been tested on other similar viruses. Coming up with effective medications that can be accepted is not a simple process. The development of drugs and vaccines is a long process that is referred to as a pipeline since the compounds go through different stages in the laboratory, animal testing, and clinical trials. Sometimes the development of the drug can take up to 10 years or more before they reach the market and many don’t go that far. It may take months before we have COVID-19 treatment and will take even more to have the vaccines.
Three medications have already received authorization for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. The drugs include antimalarial chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, an antiviral remdesivir, and a sedative used in ventilators. The emergency authorization allows the use of this drug for the management of COVID-19 before they get the official FDA approval.
Scientists have called for more research into the already approved drugs to see if they can be effective in the treatment of COVID-19. There are three stages at which the virus can be stopped: preventing the virus’s entry into the cells, inhibiting its replication, and minimizing the damage done by the virus to body organs. Most of the drugs currently being studied are antivirals. They will be used on people who already have the infection. Antivirals are supposed to be administered early on the infection before they have the chance to multiply or cause damages to organs. In the fight to contain the spread of the coronavirus, both antivirals and vaccines will be needed. Antivirals are likely to be developed and approved for use, but the development of vaccines is expected to take longer.
According to a lead government researcher, the government is in the plans of funding three experimental researches on coronavirus vaccines. A press release from Moderna showed that there was progress in the development of vaccines. The results from the trials that featured the closely monitored mRNA vaccine (mRNA-1273) showed that all the participants seroconverted following the first injection. The vaccine was able to induce the production of antibodies in the same way as in people who have recovered from COVID-19 on their own. There were also no adverse reactions in those that received low doses, but some of those who received high doses had erythematic at the site of injection that resolved on its own.
Johnson & Johnson have also announced that their vaccine trial will be brought forward to July as opposed to September as earlier planned. The company will be conducting phase1/2a of their first human clinical trial of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine and Ad26.COV2-S recombinants. Their preclinical data was positive, which led to the forward push of their timelines accelerating the vaccine’s development. The next stage of the trial, which is planned to take place in Belgium and the USA, will feature 1045 adults between 18 and 55 years, although there will be some people of 65 years and more. The phase is a double-blind placebo that will evaluate vaccine safety, immunogenicity, and reactogenicity. The company is also in talks with the authorities to begin phase 3 of the trials before the scheduled time. The company is committed to developing a safe and effective vaccine. It is already in talks with global partners to increase its manufacturing capacity to see it supply a million doses globally by 2021.
Another pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has already made plans to produce more than 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine. The company has plans to distribute the vaccine to the UK and US by September or early October. The vaccine called AZD1222 was developed in the UK by Oxford University, and then AstraZeneca was called in to help in its manufacture and distribution. Clinical trials for the vaccine are set to begin in August with the production of the drug-running concurrently. This is a massive risk by the company in case the vaccine does not work out in the clinical trials. The vaccine contains a protein from the SARS CoV-2 virus strain and has been confirmed to be safe and well-tolerated after testing on 10000 volunteers.
Recently, Novavax Inc also announced that they were in the process of developing a vaccine against coronavirus. They are currently working on multiple nanoparticle vaccine candidates using animal models before beginning production, which is scheduled to start by the end of 2020. The company has previously worked in the development of MERS and SARS vaccines. They plan to begin phase one of their clinical testing in June. They have a track record having been at the forefront in the production of the Ebola vaccine that was effective in primate studies.
The vaccine for COVID-19 is patiently awaited, and all attention is on how phase 2 and 3 of these trials turn out. All companies involved in the search and development of a safe and effective vaccine will want to be the first to announce due to the publicity that comes with it. Politics will also play a part as leaders will wish their administration to be the one to make the announcement. The ongoing clinical trials will most likely lead to sudden reversal, bursts of hope, and confusion. All eyes, will be on who will come up with an effective vaccine that will save the world.