Since the coronavirus COVID-19 infection spread to many countries after an epidemic broke out in China, there has been an unprecedented effort at the global level to develop a cure for it, especially, in the form of a vaccine. Chinese scientists could produce the RNA sequence of the virus back in the month of January. The extraordinary speed with which the sequencing had been done was also unprecedented.
A few days back, WHO declared that a vaccine could be brought into reality only after 18 months. Meanwhile, a Shanghai company has produced samples of a new vaccine against the virus which has been reported to have been tested on animals.
These vaccines are the result of collaborative work of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tongji University and a Shanghai Vaccine Company. According to the China Global Television Network, CGTN, Dr. Li Hangwen, CEO of Stermina Therapeutics, with his team, obtained the antigen from CDC and after getting it in late January; the team spent about two weeks in producing the multiple types of mRNA vaccine samples. They have prepared nine to 12 different antigens as vaccine samples for animal testing. This was also said by Zhang Xinmin, an official with the science and technology ministry, at a press conference.
For any vaccine before it is put to public use, animal testing is a must. Researchers at Tongji University in Shanghai used healthy mice to test some of the latest coronavirus vaccine samples. Mouse testing is the preliminary stage of a long process in vaccine development before it is made open to the public use. After searching for effective antibodies against the virus, the candidate vaccine continues to undergo toxicological test. This step involves application on larger animals such as monkeys. This is to ensure safety of the vaccines before clinical testing.
According to Liu Zhongmin, president of Shanghai East Hospital under the Tongji University School of Medicine, these mRNA-based vaccines are made using the most advanced and unique vaccine production technology, which has shorter preparation time and higher efficiency.
If the animal tests go well, Dr. Li Hangwen, hopes that further clinical trials could begin as early as April.
Along with China’s efforts to put an end to the deadly virus infection and bring in a vaccine, there are other countries involved in the process. University of Queensland, Australia, is also involved in creating a vaccine using new technology. Similarly, in US and Europe as well, joint projects are underway. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) announced funding of three projects of vaccine development against the coronavirus. This involves University of Queensland, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Moderna Inc. All these institutes and companies are funded heavily by CEPI for the vaccine development.
Now, Los Angeles Times has reported that Inovio Pharmaceuticals has also successful in producing a pre-clinical vaccine against the deadly COVID-19, at its lab in San Diego. The company used its proprietary DNA-based technology platform to develop the synthetic vaccine. The Chief Executive of the company, Dr. J. Joseph Kim said that the company aims to test the newly developed vaccines in the US and China as well this summer.