Six Indian Companies Are Working To Develop A Covid-19 Vaccine
A magnified coronavirus germ illustration sits beside laboratory glassware during Covid-19 vaccine research work inside the Pasteur Institute laboratories in Lille, France, on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg)

Six Indian Companies Are Working To Develop A Covid-19 Vaccine

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Six Indian companies are working on a Covid-19 vaccine, joining global efforts to curb spreading of the novel coronavirus that’s infected more than 2 million people so far.

Nearly 70 "vaccine candidates" are being tested globally and at least three have moved to the human clinical trial stage, but a vaccine is unlikely to be ready for mass use before 2021.

“While Zydus Cadila is working on two vaccines, Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals, and Mynvax are developing one vaccine each," Gagandeep Kang, executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, told Press Trust of India.

Kang is also vice chairperson of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which noted in a recent study that the “global vaccine R&D effort in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of scale and speed".

But it is a complicated process with many stages of testing and many challenges, said experts. A vaccine for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, may not take 10 years that other vaccines do, but it could be at least a year before it is proven safe, effective, and made widely available, they said.

“Vaccine development is a lengthy process which takes years, with many challenges," said E. Sreekumar, chief scientific officer at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Kerala.

“Generally, vaccines take several months to pass different stages of testing, and then approvals also take time. For Covid-19, we don’t expect a vaccine this year," Rakesh Mishra, director of CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, said.

Also Read: How to Make a Faster Coronavirus Vaccine

Phase-Wise Development

Vaccine testing typically begins with animals in the lab before going on to different stages of human clinical trials. “The human testing phase is composed of many phases," Sreekumar told PTI.

“Phase 1 trials are small-scale, usually involving few participants, to assess whether the vaccine is safe for humans. Phase 2 trials often involve several hundred subjects, and mainly evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine against the disease," he said.

The final phase involves thousands of people to further assess the efficacy of the vaccine over a defined period of time, and can last several months, Sreekumar said.

That is why we don’t see a vaccine coming in at least a year from now.
E. Sreekumar, Chief Scientific Officer, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Kerala

Even after the vaccine is ready, he said, there are a lot of challenges, including whether the vaccine is effective in all populations, and if it can be used for different strains of the novel coronavirus, which might start mutating as time passes.

“There are lots of vaccines which are being tested for Covid-19, some of which are in the Stage 1 clinical trial," Mishra said. “But we still don’t know how fast they will proceed towards a vaccine and they can take several months to reach any point.”

According to the World Health Organization, three vaccine candidates are in clinical trial phase, meaning they are able to be tested on humans, while nearly 70 are in the pre-clinical phase—either in lab testing or animal studies.

Though Kang named six companies, the WHO has listed only Zydus Cadila and Serum Institute from India as among the global firms working on a Covid-19 vaccine.

As of April 8, 2020, said CEPI, the global Covid-19 vaccine R&D landscape includes 115 vaccine candidates, of which 78 are confirmed as active and 37 are unconfirmed. Of the 78 confirmed active projects, 73 are currently at exploratory or preclinical stages, noted the CEPI team in an analysis published in Nature last week.

Also Read: Coronavirus Vaccine in 18 Months? Experts Urge Reality Check

Decoding The Virus

Experts believe the genome sequencing of the new coronavirus provided by scientists in China shows it shares 79 percent of the same genetic material as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and 50 percent with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a zoonotic coronavirus that infects humans, bats and camels.

This allows developers to use groundwork already created in research for vaccines for those viruses. Australia’s national science agency CSIRO announced earlier this month that it has begun pre-clinical tests of a vaccine developed by Oxford University, U.K.

A striking feature of the vaccine development landscape for Covid-19 is the range of technology platforms being evaluated, including nucleic acid (DNA and RNA), virus-like particle, live weakened virus, and inactivated virus approaches.

Also Read: Century-Old Vaccine Investigated as a Weapon Against Coronavirus

The CEPI noted that many of these platforms are not currently the basis for licensed vaccines, but experience in fields such as oncology is encouraging developers to exploit the opportunities that next-generation approaches offer for increased speed of development and manufacturing.

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