Curevac, Moderna, Sanofi and Co.
Researchers and pharmaceutical companies worldwide are looking for a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Some are already testing their drug candidates on humans. We present some of the projects.
When does a Covid-19 vaccine come? This question has been moving the world for months. If you look at the number of vaccine projects now running, you might actually be in good spirits – even if the World Health Organization (WHO) has just dampened confidence that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus could soon be eradicated by an antidote.
Nevertheless, the fact that a real race for a vaccine has started worldwide and that new technologies are accelerating research enormously, should at least increase the chances of success. There are now at least 133 research projects on SARS-CoV-2 according to the Association of Researching Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa). Several companies and institutes are already testing their potential funds in clinical trials on volunteers or want to start in a few months. But what is the current status? We present a selection of projects at various stages of research.
Testing of some vaccine candidates has already progressed
Some projects are already in phase two of three in clinical trials. That means: After the efficacy and tolerability of the vaccine candidate was first successfully tested on animals and in the first clinical phase on a small group of ten to 30 volunteers, the drug is now being tested on a larger group of 50 to 500 volunteers. In addition to tolerance, the main focus is on the dosage and the type of immune response.
The US company Moderna: Successful first tests on people
The US company Moderna recently announced promising interim results for its vaccine candidate called mRNA-1273. Moderna had started the first phase of volunteer testing in the United States in mid-March. According to the biotech company, the participants in this first clinical study developed antibodies that were at least as concentrated as in recovered corona patients after two vaccinations. As a result of the treatment, they became immune to SARS-CoV-2.
Vaccination with mRNA-1273 also stopped the proliferation of the pathogen in the lungs in animal experiments with mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already given Moderna approval for a phase 2 trial. Phase 3 is to follow in the summer.
This is how mRNA technology works
The mRNA (messenger RNA) is a natural messenger that stimulates human cells to activate their own defense mechanisms against a specific pathogen. For this purpose, the mRNA is populated with information about a protein of the coronavirus and introduced into the human cells. The human organism then recognizes the protein produced by its own cells as foreign and switches on its immune cells. These produce antibodies and T cells against the virus – the body’s own defense mechanism builds up, like a natural infection with the virus.
CanSino Biologics from China cooperates with Canada
The Chinese company CanSino Biologics is also working with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology on a vaccine that has already reached phase 2 of clinical trials in China.
A phase 2 study with the vector virus agent Ad5-nCoV is to take place in Canada and has already been approved there. The Canadian National Research Council announced a collaboration with CanSino Biologics Inc. in mid-May. If tested successfully, the product could be made in Canada.
Oxford University with support from AstraZeneca
The renowned British Oxford University is researching a so-called vector virus vaccine. The first volunteer test phase has been running in the UK since late April. The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is involved in the development. He says he has manufacturing capacity for a billion vaccine doses and has just received a commitment to inject up to $ 1.2 billion from the United States.
The research program, co-financed by the US agency Barda, also provides for an advanced phase 3 study on around 30,000 patients and a series of tests with children. The UK is expected to be supplied with the vaccine as early as September, with the US scheduled to start in late autumn.
How vector virus vaccines work
Other harmless viruses, such as the vaccinia virus vaccinia or a weakened vaccine strain of the measles virus, serve as the basis for these vaccines. These viruses are populated with components of the new corona virus SARS-CoV-2. The human immune system ideally responds to this harmless virus disguised as SARS-CoV-2 by producing antibodies against the new corona virus.
The biotech company Curevac from Tübingen
The company Curevac emerged from the University of Tübingen in 2000. The founders were the two professors Günter Jung and Hans-Georg Rammenee, who had previously been involved in the research of vaccines, including cancer, at the University of Tübingen.
Curevac is developing a gene-based vaccine (mRNA) that contains selected genes from the virus. According to the company, the test candidate has already achieved positive results in preclinical studies. From June, the candidate will be tested on subjects in Germany and Belgium and will be produced in a company-owned facility in Tübingen. Curevac founder Rammenee caused a sensation in May 2020 when he tried the active ingredient himself.
Curevac is financially supported for its vaccine development by the EU Commission, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Defense Advances Research Projects Agengy (DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defense.
Sanofi plans to test humans soon
The French pharmaceutical company Sanofi recently caused a stir because, according to reports, it had agreed to deliver a possible corona vaccine to the United States. The reason is that the American health agency Barda is investing $ 30 million to mitigate the financial risks in the development of a possible corona vaccine. After fierce international criticism, the pharmaceutical giant backed off and canceled this project.
Sanofi is researching a vaccine with genetically engineered virus antigen. It has not yet been tested on humans. The first human tests are planned for the second half of 2020.
This is how dead vaccines work
The variant of the vaccination is based on inactivated pathogens and can work in two ways: either they contain certain virus proteins or the entire material of inactivated SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Vaccination against flu or against hepatitis B is also designed in this way.
Broad vaccine production is already starting
Should a safe and effective vaccine be found in the foreseeable future, there is yet another challenge ahead: the rapid production of large quantities of vaccine doses and their distribution among the population.
To accelerate widespread production, several companies and research institutes want to expand their production capacities for a Covid-19 vaccine. Some, including Moderna and Oxford University, plan to begin mass-producing vaccine candidates before human testing is complete – despite the risk of having to dispose of the doses produced if the test results are negative.
In addition, companies that are not researching their own Covid-19 vaccine have agreed to support the production of other companies’ vaccines. These include the Japanese company Takeda and Bayer.
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