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Watch | The Front-Runners in the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine

Over 100 candidate vaccines for the novel coronavirus are in development right now, but some are leading the race.

Updated
Coronavirus
4 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

The novel coronavirus is taking lives.

And the world is desperate for solutions.

Antibodies and drugs can help fight the infection, but a vaccine can prevent it. It is the only way to completely defeat the virus and avoid a second wave.

A vaccine is our ticket to normalcy.

Over 100 candidate vaccines are in development right now. Recent estimates suggest it could take at least 12-18 months till we actually have one available for use. But this itself could be record-breaking speed. For instance, The mumps vaccine, which was the fastest ever approved — took four years.

Now some COVID-19 vaccine candidates are leading the race by entering human trials already.

FIT takes you through the top candidates and explains where they stand right now.

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1) Moderna’s mRNA-1273

The vaccine was developed by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the biotechnology company Moderna.

It uses a genetic platform called mRNA, short for messenger RNA, which directs the body’s cells to stimulate the immune system. The vaccine, developed using previous studies of related coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, has already shown promise in animal models.

The company has received fast-track approval from the FDA and is set to enter Phase 2 testing, which will involve around 600 healthy volunteers. The protocol for phase III is also being finalised.

It has collaborated with Lonza Ltd., a Swiss biotech company, to manufacture up to one billion doses of the vaccine per year

2) Vaccine by Sinopharm and Wuhan Institute of Virology

An inactivated vaccine created by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products under the China National Pharmaceutical Group, Sinopharm, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is also being tested in humans.

An inactivated vaccine uses killed pathogenic microorganisms for enhancing the immunogenicity. In the first phase of the trial of the vaccine candidate, a total of 96 volunteers were injected as of 23 April.

Sinopharm said that the candidate demonstrated a good safety profile so far, with the trial participants still under observation.

On 30 April, the company told a newspaper that the vaccine had received approval from the regulators in China and had reached Phase II trials.

3) Ad5-nCoV in China

China also approved an adenovirus vector vaccine, which was developed by the Institute of Military Medicine and Hong Kong-listed firm CanSino Biologics. This candidate was the first vaccine to enter a clinical trial in the country.

The first phase of the trial was completed in March and the second phase began on 12 April.

4) PiCoVacc by Sinovac Biotech in China

China-based Sinovac Biotech has secured regulatory approval to perform a clinical trial of an inactivated vaccine candidate. Sinovac’s work on developing a vaccine against COVID-19 began in January this year in partnership with leading academic research institutes in China. The Company received approval in April to conduct phase I/II studies on its candidate in China.

The vaccine successfully induced specific neutralizing antibodies in mice, rats and monkeys. The Company has started the phase I trial on over 100 healthy adults.

5) The University of Oxford’s vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19

The Oxford University is researching whether a vaccine that was originally developed for MERS could be administered during this pandemic. This vaccine would help the body recognise the “spikes” of the virus which are made of protein. As it was already being developing for MERS, it passed the initial stages and is now in the clinical trial phase.

Monkeys given this vaccine who were then “exposed to heavy quantities of the virus” were considered healthy 28 days later. On 24 April, investigators said they had begun human testing in around 1,100 people.

Here India’s Serum Institute comes in. University of Oxford’s Jenner institute has partnered with 7 manufacturers globally to speed up bringing the vaccine to people. In India, Serum Institute is on board and they have said they will start their own clinical trials in Pune soon and will start manufacturing the vaccine by end May, even before the vaccine has gone through all approvals - the idea is to have the doses available as soon as the vaccine is ready.

6) BNT162 in Germany

In Germany, a vaccine named BNT162 is in the clinical trial stage. It is being developed by US-based Pfizer (FIZER) and the German company BioNtech.

On 22 April, the regulatory body in Germany approved the vaccine for a Phase 1/2 trial. Human trials in two US locations began on 5 May, the companies noted in an announcement.

Where Does India Stand?

India is also working towards developing an indigenous vaccine.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on 9 May said it had partnered with Bharat Biotech International Limited (MMIL) to make a Covid-19 vaccine using the virus strain isolated at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), in Pune.

The ICMR has said it will seek to fast-track approvals to accelerate vaccine development and animal and human studies.

There are also studies underway to see whether the BCG vaccine, which has been used for tuberculosis, protects against the coronavirus.

Even though the world is working at a pace never seen before, vaccine development is a long process, involving research, safety trials in animals and humans, clinical trials for efficiency and mass production. A candidate vaccine can fail during any of these steps.

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