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COVID-19 Vaccine Update: The Race Against Time to Fight the Coronavirus Outbreak

May 14, 2020 2:10 PM 4 min read

The entire world is enveloped in a race against time to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

There are more than 100 potential candidates, but as per WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, there are eight top prospects which have entered the crucial clinical trials stage.

The timeline originally assumed two months back to develop a coronavirus vaccine was 12-18 months.

The hold-up isn't in creating a vaccine, as most of us would assume it to be. It is rather testing and seeking due regulatory approvals, which eat up months or years. The fastest we've ever seen this being done is in four years when the mumps vaccine was licenced in 1967.

To have a vaccine available for widespread use this soon could entail bending some rules regarding safety and testing - a slippery slope!

Let’s have a look at the story so far…


coronavirus outbreak


The University of Oxford

The University of Oxford has been working on vaccines for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - also diseases caused by different types of coronavirus. 

With a head start, Oxford was able to develop ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 - a vaccine that uses a weakened strain of common cold virus (adenovirus) combined with the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 (the one causing COVID-19). 

This will enable the body to identify the spike protein of the virus and alert the immune system.

This candidate entered phase one clinical trials last week and healthy volunteers have already been injected to check its safety and efficiency.



Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna’s vaccine candidate is developing an RNA-based vaccine - mRNA-1273 - in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which works by entering the human cells and carries the molecular instructions to make the viral protein. Recognition of the viral protein by the body will set off the immune system. This candidate has already conducted phase one trials and is set to begin phase two imminently.

On Tuesday, Moderna also announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is fast tracking its experimental preventative COVID-19 vaccine through the regulatory process. 


Pfizer and BioNtech Vaccine

US-based Pfizer pharmaceutical company and its German partner BioNtech are working together on four RNA vaccine candidates - each representing a different combination of the messenger RNA method and target antigen.

They also began clinical trials of their vaccine candidate BNT162. Trials for testing the vaccine are taking place in the USA and they plan to test the potential vaccine on 360 healthy volunteers. 


Inovio Pharmaceuticals

Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania-based biopharmaceutical company Inovio Pharmaceuticals is working on a potential vaccine named INO-4800 that uses DNA rather than RNA to code part of the coronavirus and produce an immune response.

Inovio announced at the end of April that it had enrolled 40 people in its phase one study at the University of Pennsylvania and a clinic in Kansas City. Interim results are expected by June and further stages of trials could start this summer, the company said.


Made in China

Four vaccines under human trials are from China.

The Chinese vaccines under development are from CanSino Biological Inc-Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, Wuhan Institute of Biological Product-Sinopharm, Beijing Institute of Biological Products with Sinopharm, and an independent SARS platform-based inactivated vaccine from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech.

Scientists are claiming to have successfully tested a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus in monkeys. To conduct this experiment, the researchers injected the monkeys with the potential vaccine PiCoVacc which is made by Sinovac Biotech. The monkeys were later exposed to novel coronavirus and it was found that those injected with a dose of the potential vaccine were largely protected from the virus. In April, Sinovac commenced phase one trials on 144 healthy adults aged 18-59 years.


COVID-19 Vaccine Update


What Next?

Developing a vaccine is a herculean task in itself, but once that is done, manufacturing more than 7.7bn shots of it is a different ball game altogether.

Healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson is gearing up to produce a billion coronavirus vaccines next year, according to the company’s chief scientific officer.

And this is where India primarily comes into play. 


Make in India

India is expected to play a vital role in the entire process, being one of the largest producers of generic drugs and vaccines and home to the world’s largest vaccine maker by number of doses produced and sold globally, Serum Institute of India. Serum has also partnered with Oxford University to produce up to 60m doses of a potential vaccine.

Meanwhile, multiple alternate treatments are also underway. Examples:

  • Remdesivir gained emergency use authorisation (EUA) from the FDA on May 1st 2020 based on preliminary data showing a faster time to recovery of hospitalised patients. Only today, pharma player Gilead signed non-exclusive licensing pacts with five generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to expand its supply.

  • US President Donald Trump on March 19th announced that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine/Plaquenil, used to treat malaria and arthritis, were approved by the FDA to be tested as a treatment for COVID-19. However, the FDA recently warned consumers against taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 outside a hospital or formal clinical trial setting after deaths and poisonings were reported. 

  • The National Medical Products Administration of China has also approved the use of Favilavir, an antiviral drug, as a treatment for coronavirus. The drug has reportedly shown efficacy in treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial involving 70 patients. The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen, China.

With all efforts channelised towards combating the virus, hopefully a cure is near.


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