More coronavirus vaccine efforts move toward human trials

A vial with a potential coronavirus vaccine at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland, on March 20, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - As the coronavirus pandemic spreads at unprecedented rates, invading the lungs of people of all ages, ethnicities and medical histories, more companies are ratcheting up their efforts to fight the disease with accelerated schedules for creating new vaccines.

In normal circumstances, vaccine development would take around 10 years. But the pharmaceutical industry is racing to compress this timeline with the support of nonprofit organisations, government agencies and regulatory authorities. In just a few months, more than two dozen companies have announced promising vaccine programmes, speeding through the early stages of testing unlike ever before.

On Wednesday (April 8), Novavax, a Maryland-based biotech company, said its vaccine candidate had stimulated a powerful immune response in lab and animal experiments, producing antibodies that could fight off the coronavirus. The vaccine is set to begin human trials in Australia in mid-May.

While a final product that would be widely available is still a year or more away, the Novavax effort is one of many ready to test in people.

A vaccine made by biotech company Moderna is already in a clinical trial, which started March 15. Another one, developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, was injected into the first adult volunteers on Monday. Health care giant Johnson & Johnson expects to start clinical trials in September and has received a nearly US$500 million (S$713 million) partnership via a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services. And experimental vaccines developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Baylor College of Medicine are also waiting for permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin testing in people.

"We're all trying to do something which we have almost no precedents for, which is accelerating a vaccine in the middle of a pandemic," said Dr Peter Hotez, who is a co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine.

There is no proven treatment or vaccine yet against Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. A vaccine would be the best way to stop further spread of the coronavirus because it enhances the immune system's natural defences.

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