Coronavirus: Clinical trials for Singapore's vaccine project could start in August

Arcturus Therapeutics research assistant Marion Hong conducting research on a vaccine for the coronavirus at a laboratory in San Diego last month. Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and Arcturus are now conducting pre-clinical studies on a vaccine
Arcturus Therapeutics research assistant Marion Hong conducting research on a vaccine for the coronavirus at a laboratory in San Diego last month. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Many companies and partnerships are in the race to develop a vaccine to stem the spread of Covid-19, with Singapore well in the hunt.

Duke-NUS Medical School here and United States-based Arcturus Therapeutics are now conducting pre-clinical studies on a vaccine candidate they have developed. If the vaccine is seen to be safe in animals and if studies suggest that it will be safe in humans, it will be tested next on healthy adults.

Professor Ooi Eng Eong, the deputy director of the emerging infectious diseases programme at the school, said they hope to start clinical trials as soon as August.

Singapore would own the rights to the vaccine here while the US firm would be free to market it around the world.

The World Health Organisation said on April 11 that there are three candidate vaccines being tested in clinical trials and 67 in pre-clinical evaluation. The Arcturus/Duke-NUS one is among latter group.

Many different types of vaccine are being developed as possible candidates, including DNA-based, viral vectors and protein-based ones. The Arcturus/Duke-NUS initiative is around an mRNA vaccine. This is a new technology and as yet none have been licensed for use, according to the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"mRNA vaccines are produced in a lab. In a pandemic like now, such vaccines have the advantage of being faster and cheaper to produce than conventional vaccines based on weakened viruses," said Prof Ooi.

"And Arturus has a unique type of mRNA technology, that, if successful, can make the process even faster."

Experts say vaccine development will take around 18 months and that would be a super fast-tracked process.