From the US to China, scientists are racing to develop a drug that can fight the deadly pandemic.
Thousands of scientists are racing to develop vaccines and treatments to fight the new coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 228,000 people and infected millions around the world.
Vaccine making is often a costly and tedious process involving multiple animal and human trials before one can be put into mass production as a safe bet against the disease.
Even then the viability of the drug remains unknown until it can be tested on a large group of people. In the case of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The lockdowns enforced to contain the pandemic is testing the patients of people and businesses. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the global economy is set to experience its worst crisis in decades.
“Many aspects of vaccine development have seen important technological innovations, but in the end we will still need to test these vaccines in animal and human models to assess their safety and efficacy and this takes time,” Willem van Schaik, professor of microbiology and infection at University of Birmingham, told TRT World.
In its April 4 issue, the New Scientist journal said that at least 60 different compounds, including therapies being designed from scratch, to see if they work against the contagious virus.
The vaccines in trials will reduce the ability of the virus to make copies, find and deploy antibodies to fight the viral infection and ensure that the immune system did not unravel.
Here’s a quick look at the vaccines and other drugs that are in the pipeline.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is conducting a trial of Remdesivir on 1,063 people. Remdesivir was developed by California-based biotechnology firm, Gilead Sciences, to fight the Ebola virus against which it turned out to be ineffective.
But it did show promise in countering other coronaviruses such as SARS in early experiments on animals. The antiviral drug that stops the virus from replicating in cells of a human body has shown to reduce the duration of symptoms from 15 days to 11 days in clinical trials. But its effectiveness in reducing the mortalities remains inconclusive for now.
Dr Anthony Fauci who runs the NIAID said: "The data shows Remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery," he told BBC.
But in China, the trial drug couldn’t speed up the recovery of patients. The US Food and Drug Administration has not yet announced any drug for the treatment of Covid-19, but it might give special permission to Remdesivir, according to The New York Times.
Scientists at the Jenner Institute of the Oxford University are sprinting ahead with the development of a vaccine, which they hope could hit the market by September, ahead of many others.
They are going to try the vaccine on 6000 patients by the end of next month and results are expected by June.
Six rhesus macaque monkeys inoculated last month with the Oxford vaccine have shown resistance against the virus.
The university has teamed up with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to manufacture and distribute the vaccine if the results come positive.
“They certainly have the expertise and experience to make this work, but even if their candidate vaccines are safe and effective it will take a few more months before the production of vaccines in industrial quantities can start,” said Schaik.
Trials for a vaccine have to go through multiple phases, and each one tested on a large number of people before it can be marketed.
Even if regulatory approvals are eased, it will probably take months for researchers to know for sure if a drug works.
Another American biotech firm, Moderna Therapeutics, has asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test its mRNA-1273 vaccine in a second phase trial.
“This study will evaluate the safety, reactogenicity and immunogenicity of two vaccinations of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart,” the company said in a statement.
It will be tested on 600 participants. The phase 1 trial is basically to check if the vaccine is safe.
The vaccine which uses a harmless genetic code from the coronavirus to trigger the immune response.
The testing has been fast-tracked as it was not used on animals. But the company says that vaccines have been made using a reliable method.
Vaccines generally work by preparing our immune system to recognise a pathogen and attack it once it enters the body. That’s why the vaccine-making technique for years has been to use part of a virus, which has been made harmless, to train the immune system to fight it.
Newer methods like what Moderna are deploying involve inserting the genetic parts of the coronavirus into another harmless virus and then using it to produce an immune response.
“The goal here is to make a vaccine that looks like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, but cannot itself make people sick,” wrote Gordon Dougan and Kat Holt, infectious disease experts, wrote.
Many other companies such as Inovio Pharmaceuticals and German pharmaceutical, BioNTech, have also started clinical trials.
Pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and GSK have teamed up to develop a vaccine. Similarly, multiple companies and institutions in China and Australia are working on the drug.
Despite the international efforts and collaboration, there’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about the Covid-19. For instance, how easily can it spread among people.