CanSino’s Covid Vaccine Shows Promise in Early Chinese Study

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(Bloomberg) -- An experimental Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s CanSino Biologics, one of the front-runners in the global race to come up with a shot to help end the pandemic, was safe and generated an immune response in an early study in humans.

The vaccine stimulated production of both antibodies that can stop infection along with immune T-cells, according to a report published Friday in The Lancet medical journal. Further research is needed to show its effectiveness against the virus, according to the study conducted by researchers from the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and other organizations.

Drugmakers and universities are rushing to develop vaccines against the coronavirus as the global death toll climbs past 330,000. Governments see inoculations as the key to saving lives, restarting economies and restoring a normal way of life. Mobilizing huge resources, China has five potential shots in human testing, while the Trump administration in the U.S. has responded with an effort to get a vaccine across the line called Operation Warp Speed.

“If you are wondering whether it will be possible to create a vaccine against this, you have to have incrementally more confidence today,” Brad Loncar, chief executive officer of U.S. fund manager Loncar Investments and a CanSino investor, said by phone. “Whether this vaccine is the perfect one or not, that’s still to be determined.”

Moderna Inc., a U.S. biotech company, released early data this week from a study designed to show that a shot it’s developing is safe. The report contained data from eight patients showing that it produced markers of an immune response, a hopeful sign that it could be effective in fighting the virus in wider tests. But Moderna’s shares, which had quadrupled since the beginning of the year, tumbled Tuesday after a report on the Stat website that the company hadn’t produced data critical to assessing its vaccine.

The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc said Friday that they’re recruiting more than 10,000 patients for advanced studies of a different experimental inoculation. William Haseltine, a former Harvard University HIV researcher, said in a blog post that results of an animal test of that shot were weak compared with those of a vaccine under development by Sinovac Biotech in Beijing.

The Oxford researchers have countered that the comparison is inapt for studies carried out with different types of vaccines given in varying doses, in monkeys who were infected with different levels of virus.

The results of the CanSino vaccine study “represent an important milestone,” said Wei Chen, a professor at the Beijing institute that carried out the study, in the report. “However, these results should be interpreted cautiously. The challenges in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine are unprecedented, and the ability to trigger these immune responses does not necessarily indicate that the vaccine will protect humans from Covid-19.”

From an efficacy standpoint, “it’s a little bit of a mixed bag,” Loncar said. “It did create a decent amount of neutralizing antibodies, so it suggests that one day either this company or somebody else will have success.”

The trial in 108 adults recruited from Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected, demonstrated promising results after 28 days. The final results will be evaluated in six months, according to the report.

The findings, published in a prominent medical journal, are another sign of how quickly China is moving. “This is an example of China being marginally ahead of the entire world,” Loncar said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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