Biotech Experts Insists That Earliest A Coronavirus Vaccine Could Materialize Is In Six Months And Not Sooner
No government or manufacturer will have a coronavirus vaccine
ready for use before the middle of 2020, despite an intensive global effort, a senior biotech executive told Thailand Medical
Dr Stephane Bancel is chief executive of Moderna Therapeutics, one of several entities involved in an all-out international effort to create a vaccine
as soon as possible for the deadly SARS-like virus, also known as nCoV-2019
, that has already killed more than 258 people.
The company Moderna is working in coordination with the US National Institutes of Health, while Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the University of Queensland in Australia are pursuing alternative tracks.
All entities have all received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international body established to finance costly biotechnology
But Dr Bancel warned that "no manufacturer will be able to have a vaccine
ready by the first quarter or second quarter of 2020".
Dr Bancel also described the technology Moderna was using in its approach. "It is based on messenger RNA technology. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a coded information molecule," he said. "mRNA medicines are sets of instructions that cells in the body use to make proteins to prevent or fight disease."
Dr Bancel added that "once we have managed to master the technology that works on humans, things could go very quickly because it is always the same manufacturing process ie for messenger RNA against the flu or against the coronavirus
, it is the same method of manufacturing, the only difference is the order of letters that code the proteins.”
He further added,"For the coronavirus
, we are working with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). They acquired the virus' sequence from the Chinese government, then the NIH and our teams analysed it to understand the protein structures, which are different from other viruses. Our biotech teams near Boston are making a vaccine
now, and as soon as it is ready, it will be sent to the NIH which will carry out clinical phase 1 trials."
He warned that "the vaccine
will have to undergo several clinical trials hence he is not sure if a vaccine
could be developed in time to respond to the coronavirus
He explained, "The challenge is that it could quickly be given to millions of people. The responsibility for its safety is therefore very important. Even going quickly with technolgy like mRNA, no manufacturer will be able to have a vaccine
ready in 3 or 5 months.”
Dr Bancel emphasised that "the
only answer now is public health actions, trying to contain human to human transmission as much as possible. I think the biggest public health challenge will be during winter in the southern hemispere, along with the risk that it comes back to the northern hemisphere in the fall."
He added, "It is very had to predict today if the situation will be serious in the fall or if the virus will have disappeared. But one advantage of getting a coronavirus vaccine
approved, is that if there is a mutation to another virus later, it will be possible to have a product available quickly."
CEPI chief executive Richard Hatchett commented "Our aspiration with these technologies is to bring a new pathogen from gene sequence to clinical testing in 16 weeks which is significantly shorter than where we are now."
Dr Brancel told media there were risks for his company to take on this kind of project, but that CEPI funding removed a major obstacle.
He commented,"There is a risk that the product does not work, because biotechnology
is complicated. There is also a risk that another solution is found before we do and that it becomes the blockbuster product that everyone prescribes. That is why partnerships with CEPI are very important. CEPI provides us with the funds to make the first batch of vaccines
for the NIH. That removes a big thorn from our side. The concept behind CEPI is to obtain regulatory approval for a dozen vaccines
, for viruses like Zika or coronavirus
, because they pose a great threat to humans. We urgently need approved vaccines so that if there are mutations within a strain of virus, we can produce vaccines in large quantities within a few months."
Meanwhile epidemiologists are warning that the coronavirus
outbreak is accelerating at a rapid pace and fact that individuals who are infected but are not showing symptoms can still spread the virus thru their exhaled air is extremely alarming.Many expect that the individuals infected in China could reach 3 million by the middle of February while global cases could be about two hundred cases by then on a conservative level.