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Another coronavirus vaccine candidate might be ready sooner than expected

Published May 30th, 2020 12:04PM EDT
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  • Another potential coronavirus vaccine might be available this fall.
  • Pfizer said the candidate it’s developing with BioNTech could be ready by October if everything goes well.
  • There’s no guarantee that any of these vaccines will work, and several logistic challenges have to be addressed before mass immunization campaigns can be conducted.

The development of vaccines for the novel coronavirus has been rather promising so far, with more than 100 teams moving forward with drugs for neutralizing the virus and preventing infection. Separately, research has shown that COVID-19 survivors will be immune, and that vaccine candidates can induce the same kind of immunity in subjects. While it’s still unclear how long COVID-19 protection lasts, vaccines would make the disease a lot easier to control.

Around 10 groups are already testing their drugs on human volunteers, and some of them might be ready as soon as this fall if all goes well. Companies like Moderna and researchers from Oxford said their vaccines might be delivered in the coming months, with the Oxford team saying its drug could be ready by September. Separately, China has at least four candidates in testing. Officials said they’re already devising plans for emergency use of these drugs, with some immunizations to take place as soon as this year, regardless of whether the clinical trials are completed or not. Pfizer now joins the list of entities that might have a vaccine candidate ready in 2020, with a tentative availability window set for October.

Pfizer partnered with German biopharmaceutical company BioNTech and started tests in Germany and the USA a few weeks ago. Neither company published data about the early-stage trials. In fact, only China’s CanSino released official findings for Phase 1, with Moderna highlighting partial conclusions from its own experiments and Oxford releasing data for the preclinical phase. But Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said his company believes a vaccine candidate could be ready before the end of the year, AFP reports, via Times of Israel.

Bourla and other execs from the industry attended a virtual briefing that the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) hosted on Thursday.

“If things go well, and the stars are aligned, we will have enough evidence of safety and efficacy so that we can… have a vaccine around the end of October,” he said during the event.

AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot, who also addressed the possibility of using challenge trials to speed up development, said the “hope of many people is that we will have a vaccine, hopefully several, by the end of this year.” AstraZeneca partnered with Oxford to manufacture the vaccine.

Pfizer, AstraZeneca, CanSino, and other companies working on vaccines face an unexpected issue. The COVID-19 transmission rate has dropped in Europe, China, and other regions where candidates might be tested. Without enough sick people around, vaccine research could be delayed, as the volunteers might not be exposed to the virus.

Even if things go well, it’s not all good news when it comes to COVID-19 immunization campaigns. IFPMA director Thomas Cueni estimates that the world will need 15 billion doses to stop the vaccine, making it clear that the world won’t “have sufficient quantities as from day one, even with the best efforts.”

Soriot pointed out there aren’t enough vials in the world, adding that his firm was looking into the possibility of putting multiple doses in each vial.

Johnson and Johnson CSO Paul Stoffels said that the world might need between 5 and 10 different working vaccines to satisfy the global demand. That’s because some of the vaccine technologies require certain logistics, like storage in very low temperatures, and some places might lack the infrastructure for that. Bill Gates already explained some of these vaccine challenges when speaking about coronavirus vaccine progress in previous weeks.

The officials also “flatly rejected” any suggestion that intellectual property rights should be waived for COVID-19 vaccine research. “IP is absolutely fundamental to our industry,” GSK chief Emma Walmsley said. Soriot said that pharmaceutical companies are investing billions of dollars into this endeavor, and the costs won’t be recouped. “If you don’t protect IP, then essentially there is no incentive for anybody to innovate,” he said.

With all that in mind, even if Pfizer’s vaccine is ready as soon as October, it will take a lot longer for mass inoculations to take place. And the same goes for all the other promising candidates that are in Phase 2 or 3 of testing.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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