New Delhi, March 19 (IANS) From the US to China and in between, over 35 drug makers are fighting for a vaccine that can prevent new coronavirus (COVID-19). Billions of dollars are at stake as human clinical trials that have just begun, have to yield positive results soon as the pandemic enters new territories.
The bio-researchers and scientific community are experimenting with drug cocktails and yet-to-be-tested vaccines, in the hope that even old drugs meant for HIV, Ebola and what not can come to the rescue.
But the risk of failure is paramount and irrespective of sporadic news coming from some countries claiming they "cured" COVID-19 patients, the world is anxiously looking at a drug that can universally be accepted and adopted.
According to New Scientist, if the approach works, "we will, for the first time, have identified a new disease and developed a vaccine against it while the initial outbreak is still ongoing.''
"We could have a vaccine in three weeks, but we can't guarantee its safety or efficacy," Gary Kobinger, a virologist at Laval University in Canada, was quoted as saying in the report.
Big pharmaceutical companies do not want to put all of their money into a vaccine that will not have saleability once the disease is contained, and are looking at governments and nonprofits like Bill & Melinda Foundation and Jack Ma Foundation for funds.
Medical research foundations Wellcome and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have joined forces with payments major Mastercard to set up $125 million in seed funding to speed-up the response to the Covid-19 pandemic by identifying, assessing, developing and scaling-up treatments.
The Jack Ma Foundation has announced it will donate $14.4 million to support research and development of a novel coronavirus vaccine.
With the pharmaceutical giant and the world's largest vaccine makers Pfizer announcing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus – after teaming up with German firm BioNTech to start clinical trials of its experimental vaccine next month – the vaccine race has taken an interesting turn.
BioNTech is developing the vaccine inside of China with Fosun Pharma, a Chinese pharmaceutical company, and Pfizer said they will now develop the company's experimental Covid-19 vaccine outside of China.
"We believe that by pairing Pfizer's development, regulatory and commercial capabilities with BioNTech's mRNA vaccine technology and expertise as one of the industry leaders, we are reinforcing our commitment to do everything we can to combat this escalating pandemic, as quickly as possible," Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's chief scientific officer, said in a statement.
Pfizer said it would work with BioNTech at sites in the US and Germany.
The governments, meanwhile, are resorting to drug cocktails and years' old medicines to break the virus cycle.
An old malaria and autoimmune drug is showing promise as a potential treatment for COVID-19 – although health officials are urging caution until clinical trials are done, reports Forbes.
The drug hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil which was approved in 1955, was reported March 9 in Clinical Infectious Diseases journal to be effective at killing the virus in laboratory experiments.
In a letter in the journal Cell Discovery, the study's authors wrote: "(W)e predict that the drug has a good potential to combat the disease".
Medical experts in China claimed that Favipiravir, the active ingredient in a Japanese anti-flu medicine called Avigan, is "clearly effective" in treating the novel coronavirus.
Favipiravir was trialled on 340 patients with the disease in China. Patients who took the flu drug recovered quicker and showed greater lung improvement compared with patients not given the drug.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said this week that India is using retroviral drugs to treat some of the coronavirus patients and approvals in this regard have been given after scientific scrutiny.
A promising drug to potentially treat coronavirus -- Gilead Sciences' remdesivir -- is being given a second shot at clinical trials after three seriously-affected patients in the US treated with remdesivir recovered albeit with some side effects.
Scientists in Israel are expected to announce vaccine for coronavirus in the coming days but a long process of pre-clinical and clinical testing and approval process will take months, according to a media report.
In the US, 43-year-old Jennifer Haller, an operations manager at a small tech company, is currently in a human clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine is called mRNA-1273, developed by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, and Moderna, Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company.
"Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority. This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal," said NIAID Director Anthony Fauci.
By all estimates – from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to NIH – a COVID-19 vaccine will take anywhere between 12-18 months.
By the time doctors have it in their hands, the global pandemic may disappear altogether.
Time is ticking fast for the drug companies as well as the governments as the late arrival of the new coronavirus vaccine may not serve the purpose.