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Public Health

In pursuit of a Vaccine for Covid-19

Covid-19 pandemic has brought vaccines under limelight once again. Research laboratories and pharma/biotech companies are working overtime to develop a vaccine against coronavirus at the earliest. As of July 31st, 2020, more than 100 efforts to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 are underway in different parts of the world, and at least four of these are in phase III trials – three in China and one in the UK. As per some unverified reports, some phase III trials are underway in Russia also, but not much is known about these trials at the moment.

We have two promising candidate vaccines here in India also – one at Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and the other at Zydus Cadila. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has allowed both of them to start human clinical trials. Besides the early stage trials of these two indigenous candidate vaccines, Serum Institute of India received the regulatory approval on July 31st, 2020 to conduct a large multicentric phase III trial for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in India.

Every small or big news coming out of the laboratories is getting dissected endlessly – not always in the most logical manner and often with more political rather than scientific context. For example, there have been claims by eminent people in India, US and other countries that a vaccine for Covid-19 could be available by or before the last quarter of 2020. In fact, just this week Russian news agencies announced that two candidate vaccines there are in the last phase of development and that Russia will launch a vaccine by August 12th itself.

I have discussed this in a detailed point of view here.

We need to be careful while setting any timelines for Covid-19 vaccine. Going by the history of vaccine development, this seems a rather aggressive timeline. Till date, Mumps vaccine is the fastest developed vaccine, which took four years in development – from the time of initial sample collection in 1963 to its licensing for mass consumption in 1967. Despite all the scientific advancements since then, Mumps vaccine remains the only vaccine ever to be developed in less than five years. So, to have a vaccine for Covid-19 thoroughly tested, approved and readied within under one year may actually be a wee bit too ambitious a goal.

By Dr Lalit Singh , Managing Director – McGraw Hill Education, India

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Public Health

COVID19 Vaccine: Where do we stand

(The following is a guest post by Dr Sumeet Kad)

As countries are implementing extreme measures to arrest the growing concerns due to COVID-19, all eyes are collectively hoping for an elixir – a viable vaccine. Various research organizations, government institutions, academia and pharma giants across the globe are working and collaborating at an unprecedented pace to formulate a vaccine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are already two clinical trials underway and more than 60 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical evaluation.  On average, 10.7 years are taken from the pre-clinical stage for the vaccine to be developed. A vaccine for the EBOLA virus was released after 5 years. However, analysts are being Panglossian and expect a vaccine to be available in early-mid 2021. To augment the fight against coronavirus, innovative regulatory mechanisms, enhanced manufacturing processes, and new technologies platforms have come to the forefront. Many countries are adopting several initiatives in their quest for a cure or vaccine.

mRNA Vaccine

Pfizer is partnering with BioNtech for utilizing mRNA (messenger RNA) technology to develop the vaccine. This vaccine is expected to go for human trials in April. The mRNA technology platform is widely used for finding a cure of infectious diseases due to the low cost involved in production and its better safety profile. Sanofi has also undertaken mRNA vaccine research and hope to begin the clinical testing by end of this year.

Indian organizations such as Pune-based Serum Institute of India, largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, is collaborating with two American companies to develop a covid19 vaccine. Over 20 research institutes in India are working overnight to develop coronavirus vaccine.

Blood Plasma Therapy

The underlying principle behind the blood plasma therapy is that the blood of a cured COVID-19 patient would have developed certain antibodies that can help a severely ill patient combat the virus and help in recovery. The same therapy has been successfully implemented for treatment of other infectious diseases in past such as SARS, MERS and HINI. ICMR (India Council of Medical Research) considers this as a viable option of treatment in the absence of a vaccine and could try it out in few states in India. Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are waiting for Government’s nod to conduct convalescent plasma therapy trials on patients.

There have been few studies in China and US highlighting that few COVID patients have recovered using this therapy.

Anti-malarial and Anti-viral Drugs

Although there is no robust study which substantiates the effectiveness of the anti-malarial drug- Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to fight of coronavirus, many countries are vouching its use. India is the biggest producer of this drug and has agreed to export it to US, Israel and other countries in need. The potential usage of this drug against COVID-19 is under investigation in numerous trials. If proven effective, then this could a potential savior as the drug is cheap and can me made easily available where required. ICMR in India has recommended HCQ for asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Clinical trials are also in motion to check the efficacy and safety of an influenza anti-viral drug -favipiravir for Coronavirus patients. It is widely produced by Japanese drug-maker Fujifilm.

Protein & Vitamin Supplements

Sesderma, a Spanish firm has claimed to successfully treat 75 COVID19 patients in Spain with its immune-strengthening supplemental drug. The company plans to work with ICMR in India for further clinical trials and is successful, this drug could be potential solution to end the pandemic.

Clearly, swift work is being carried out to speed up the process to discover a potential solution that could end this crisis. The challenges for developing a vaccine are multifold but human resolve has been able to overcome massive hurdles in the past. It’s a matter of time and till then the entire human race is hoping for the miraculous Covid19 killer.

About the author

Dr Sumeet Kad is a Healthcare and Artificial Intelligence Leader, focusing on leveraging technology to create a model for affordable care.