COVID-19: Vaccine doubts but over 400 therapies in development

Latest News

Experts still question whether a vaccine can be produced against COVID-19 but governments, researchers and industry, are working hard and at least preparing for significant production.

In the US, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci told Congress earlier this week, “There’s no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective.”

He said, “You can have everything you think that is in place and you do not induce the kind of immune response that turns out to be protective and durably protective.

“So one of the big unknowns is, will it be effective? Given the way the body responds to viruses of this type, I am cautiously optimistic that we will with one of the candidates get an efficacy signal.”

Dr Fauci said the greatest risk is a “suboptimal response” that actually strengthens the virus. However, he said he remained “cautiously optimistic that we will have a candidate that will have some degree of efficacy, hopefully a percentage enough that will induce the kind of herd immunity that would give protection to the population at home.”

There are currently eight vaccines in human trials with more than another 90 in pre-clinical development. The FDA has proposed a 'master trial protocol' that will see a number of vaccines tested simultaneously.

In March, US-based Moderna became the first company to progress a potential COVID-19 vaccine to human trials. It recently announced plans to progress the vaccine to a phase two trial involving 600 participants with the hope of a late-stage trial in mid-2020. The vaccine was tested in mice the same day the company recruited for the first human trial.

Global biopharmaceutical companies are also working towards the development of a vaccine and its manufacture, including Sanofi, Pfizer, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novartis. In addition to research on a potential vaccine, the companies are working to expand their manufacturing capacity through a combination of partnering and freeing-up capacity by outsourcing some existing production.

Pfizer recently announced a plan to commit four of its manufacturing sites - three in the US and one in Belgium - to the manufacture of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. The company said it could deliver several hundred million doses of any vaccine in 2021. It also plans to free-up existing capacity by using some of its global network of around 200 manufacturing contractors.

Countries and companies are also considering the distribution of any vaccine. Bloomberg has reported Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson has committed to supplying the company's COVID-19 vaccine, if approved, to the US first on the basis it was an early funder of its development.

The industry is also working on treatments for COVID-19 currently headlined by Gilead's antiviral remdesivir. The company is progressing its development after positive early trial results while also significantly expanding its production.

According to US-based BIO, there are currently 430 unique compounds in development related to the virus, including 100 vaccines, 195 treatments and 135 antivirals.

Around half of the 430 are in development in the US, with 31 in China, 16 in the UK, 15 in Canada and six in Australia. The University of Queensland is working on a vaccine while CSL recently announced it has started the development of a plasma-derived treatment.