Coronavirus vaccine : An analysis of its status

[Disclaimer : This answer was originally written by me on Quora on 28th of March, 2020 and is a compilation of important facts, figures and information regarding the status of the vaccine. The information is going to change as researchers are working to find a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease. Below the article are the mentioned sources which you can refer to know more.]

First we need to understand what Coronavirus actually is. Coronavirus is a family of viruses which causes the COVID-19 disease. The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing. The structure is almost 80–90% similar (genetically) to the virus which causes the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Hence this virus is also called as Sars-CoV-2.

The Sars-CoV-2 is a spiky virus which consists of a protein membrane (covering) outside and a strip of Ribonucleic Acid from inside. The spiky surface helps the virus to get stuck on to the receptors which are present on the inner lining of the human lungs which helps the virus to break into the cell. This means that, the virus has now access to the machinery which helps manufacture cells and hijacks it to produce more copies of itself before breaking out of the cell again and killing it in the process.

A vaccine provides acquired immunity against a particular infectious disease. All vaccines are based upon the same principle i.e They present part or all of the pathogen to the human immune system, usually in the form of an injection and at a low dose, to prompt the system to produce antibodies to the pathogen. Antibodies are a kind of immune memory which, having been elicited once, can be quickly mobilized again if the person is exposed to the virus in its natural form.

In a press release, University of Oxford stated that, “Its researchers working in an unprecedented vaccine development effort to prevent COVID-19 have started screening healthy volunteers (aged 18-55) on Friday for their upcoming ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine trial in England’s Thames Valley. The vaccine based on an adenovirus vaccine vector and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is already in production but won’t be ready for some weeks still.”

Prof. Martin Bachmann, expert immunologist stated, “We are really focusing on creating the genetically fused vaccine at the moment to switch to mass production, and luckily we don’t do that only here. I have a long-standing collaboration with the Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre in Riga, and they are working on that bit as well.”

A pre-print, which has not been peer-reviewed and published in a journal, posted in the Harvard University repository, has proposed an alternative approach to test the candidate vaccine and make it available earlier. There is an option to accelerate the process and possibly make the vaccine rollout possible several months earlier. The process is called the “Controlled human infection model (CHIM) or simply human challenge studies. The human challenge study does not involve the conventional Phase-3 trial where thousands of healthy volunteers receive either a vaccine or a placebo and followed up for a long time to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

Instead, about a hundred healthy volunteers are first vaccinated and then intentionally exposed to the novel coronavirus to test the ability of the vaccine to protect the individuals from getting infected. This will sharply cut the time taken to complete the trial.

Moderna’s platform is based on injecting mRNA into cells to produce protein in human cells. When he first heard the idea, Bancel admitted, “I thought this was crazy.” RNA, he knew, is both unstable and immunogenic. But, he asserted, there had been some recent scientific breakthroughs where synthetic RNA was making protein in vivo. Also, he noted that after thinking about it, he realized that making a human protein in a human cell is probably not going to be worse than making it in bacteria. “We don’t guess the biology – we use the biology of nature,” he said.

As far as India’s role is concerned, then according to Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the coronavirus research consortium[6] , which has experts from the ICMR, DBT, NIV, are working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. “We are researching new molecules for treatment. We are researching repurposed drugs to treat patients. More than 45 drugs have been identified that may be effective and research is going on. Several DBT institutions are working to see which formulations can work effectively against Covid-19,” she said. “We are also sharing our research with international consortium, which are working on vaccine development. But in any case, it will take time. They are at the animal trial stage and it will reach stage three of human trail not before year end,” she added.

Also, a statement issued by the University of Hyderabad states that Dr. Seema Mishra, faculty of the Department of Biochemistry, School of Life Sciences, has designed potential vaccine candidates, called T cell epitopes, against all the structural and non-structural proteins of novel coronavirus-2 (2019-nCoV) for experimental testing. These vaccine candidates are small coronaviral peptides, molecules which are used by cells to trigger an immune response to destroy cells harbouring these viral peptides. Using powerful immunoinformatics approaches with computational softwares, Dr Seema Mishra has designed these potential epitopes in a way that can be used to vaccinate an entire population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it has enrolled first patients from Norway and Spain in the Solidarity Trial, which will compare the safety and effectiveness of four different drugs or drug combinations against COVID-19. On a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, the WHO chief said it is still at least 12 to 18 months away.[9]

Till then, we have a responsibility to follow the government laid orders and take the necessary precautions given by the world health authorities cause we are our only hope here.

References :

Coronavirus

Coronavirus vaccine: when will it be ready?

Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine opens for clinical trial on humans

Infecting healthy people with coronavirus can speed up vaccine trials

Moderna’s SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine’s Fast Track to Clinical Trials

India to set up Covid-19 research consortium for diagnosis, therapy

20 Indian institutes working to find Covid-19 vaccine, IITs focused on portable ventilators

University of Hyderabad Faculty Develops Potential Vaccine Candidates Against Coronavirus

First patients from Norway, Spain enrolled for COVID-19 drug trials, vaccine still 12-18 months away: WHO

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