‘We’ve got the virus vaccine’
A Canadian company has claimed it's found the cure for the deadly coronavirus.
Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company in Quebec City funded by the Pentagon, said that it has produced a COVID-19 vaccine just 20 days after receiving the coronavirus' genetic sequence, using a unique technology that they soon hope to submit for FDA approval.
The company's CEO, Bruce Clark, said his company could produce as many as 10 million doses a month.
If regulatory hurdles can be cleared, Mr Clark said on Thursday, the vaccine could become available as soon as November.
The deadly virus, which has been officially declared a pandemic, has infected more than 125,000 people worldwide.
Medicago isn't the first research lab to claim it has found a cure, but Mr Clark said that his company's technique - which he said has already been proven effective in producing vaccines for seasonal flu - is more reliable and easier to scale.
"There are a couple of others who are claiming that they have - well, we will call them vaccine(s)" for COVID-19, he told Defense One.
"But they're different technologies. Some are RNA or DNA-based vaccines that have not yet been proven in any indication yet, let alone this one. Hopefully, they'll be successful."
Mr Clark said his team were able to create vaccine so quickly because they used plants, not chicken eggs, as a bioreactor for growing vaccine proteins.
Medicago doesn't work with a live virus. Instead, the team insert a genetic sequence into a soil bacteria, which is taken up by the plants, which then reportedly begin to produce the protein that can then be used as a vaccine.
If the virus begins to mutate, Mr Clark said, as is expected for COVID-19, they can just update the production using new plants.
"That's the difference between us and egg-based methods," he said.
"We go directly to producing the vaccine or the antibody without having to propagate the virus."
WHAT ARE THE STAGES OF TESTING A VACCINE HAS TO GO THROUGH?
New drugs and vaccines usually go through a strict regime of phased clinical trials.
Phase I trials involve dispensing the drug to a small group to test its safety, phase II involves testing the drug's effectiveness with a larger group, and phase III trials use larger groups and include monitoring adverse affects.
Mr Clark said that using plants also made the vaccine much easier to produce at a large scale, and that once the company got the green light, it would be able to produce 10 million vaccine doses a month.
"Our basic plan is to be in human studies, phase one, by the July time frame; and then it would depend, quite extensively, on the decisions the regulators make in terms of the hurdles they want us to have in the normal course of development," he said.
"I will say our intention, taking a very standard approach, is that by November we will have completed phase three in clinical trials - allowing the vaccine to be made widely available to the public."
Director of America's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, Dr Anthony Fauci, told the US House Oversight and Reform Committee that human trials for a vaccine would be possible "within a few weeks".
"We said … that it would take two to three months to have it in the first human," Dr Fauci said on Thursday.
"I think we're going to do better than that. I would hope within a few weeks we may be able to make an announcement to you all that we've given the first shot to the first person."
But, following similar projections from leading health authorities including the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Fauci said that a vaccine would not be available to the broader public for another 12 to 18 months.
"I want to make sure people understand, and I've said that over and over again, that does not mean we have a vaccine that we can use," he said. "We mean it's record time to get it tested. It's going to take a year to a year-and-a-half to really know if it works."
The WHO have said that there's currently no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19, but that possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are currently under investigation.
Chair of Australia's Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Jane Halton, said about $3 billion is needed so that multiple versions of potential vaccines can be developed.
Ms Halton told ABC radio that it would take "many, many months to produce the hundreds of millions of doses that will be needed for this vaccine".