Unprecedented ways to speed up COVID-19 vaccine development

Teodoro Padilla — Medicine Matters

Posted at Aug 07 2020 10:29 PM

Several times we have heard that until there is a vaccine, we will continue to live under the “new normal”, where strict guidelines are observed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. With 122,754 confirmed cases and over 2,100 deaths in the country so far, there is a pressing need to closely abide by these health standards. Until the country has flattened the curve, recovery from the recession will also be more challenging.

Developing safe and effective vaccines usually takes years. However, the devastating health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized major research-based biopharmaceutical companies to work together in order to speed up the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

Several biopharmaceutical companies are researching vaccine candidates for the prevention of COVID-19 and collaborating in the sharing of existing technologies that can be leveraged to allow a rapid upscale of production once a vaccine candidate is identified. Some companies are also sharing technologies that act as an adjuvant which can boost the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

Due to unprecedented collaborations, more than 165 vaccines against the coronavirus are in development as of today. Of this number, 28 vaccines are in human trials. Researchers are racing against time to produce a safe and effective vaccine by 2021.

“Partnerships are hard. It takes a lot of work, a lot of trust. Our unprecedented collaboration shows how determined we are to develop a viable COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Beaver Tamesis, country president of MSD Philippines.

“This is the first time that we are seeing such an amazing collaboration and speed to deliver medicines and vaccines against COVID-19. We know that vaccines are the final solution that will allow us to return to normal,” said Mr. Andreas Reidel, country manager, Pfizer Philippines.

“We all agree that we need to work together to find a solution. We are focused on one target: to win the battle against COVID-19,” said Dr. Jean-Antoine Zinsou, general manager of Sanofi Pasteur Philippines.

Speaking during an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), pharmaceutical executives said that the expedited timeline is possible because the biopharmaceutical companies involved in developing a COVID-19 vaccine are not starting from scratch; they are building on past research on vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). COVID-19 is caused by a virus that is closely related to the one that causes SARS. This the reason why the novel coronavirus is called SARS-CoV-2. “The potentially shorter timeline in developing a COVID-19 vaccine is due to the fact that we are adapting existing vaccine technologies that have already been validated,” explained Dr. Zinsou.

Moreover, because of the seriousness of the pandemic, regulatory authorities are open to expediting the vaccine review and approval process. Another key factor is that biopharmaceutical companies are sharing data from COVID-19 clinical trials with regulators, especially the US Food and Drug Administration, in real time, according to Mr. Reidel. “This unprecedented real-time data-sharing aims to enable regulatory agencies to evaluate at the earliest possible time whether candidate COVID-19 vaccines have met safety and efficacy thresholds. We are doing many processes in parallel and, in a safe and responsible manner, compressing into months stages that normally take years.”
 
A key target for COVID-19 vaccine developers is the spike-like structure on the surface of the novel coronavirus called an S protein, which attaches to the surface of human cells. These spikes create the corona-like, or crown-like, appearance that gives the viruses their name. By targeting the S protein, the vaccine would prevent it from binding to human cells and stop the virus from reproducing.

“We believe that ultimately science will win, which means the whole world wins,” Mr. Reidel said. “Hopefully, we will be able to develop not only one vaccine, but many vaccines. Because the more vaccines we develop, the more ways we can combat the novel coronavirus.”

There are global pharmaceutical companies researching for COVID-19 vaccines that are operating in the country. These are AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Pfizer, and Sanofi. Their presence provides opportunities for communication and partnerships.

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TEODORO B. PADILLA is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP and its member-companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.