A team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health have been doing round-the-clock research, and after weeks, they had their first key test for an experimental vaccine.
Kizzmekia Corbett, an NH research fellow and one of the scientists leading the vaccine development said “it was absolutely amazing,” when her team had given her the great news that this vaccine actually works.
Different research groups all over the world are all competing to create the first COVID-19 vaccine as cases continue to multiply at an alarming rate on a daily basis. More importantly, these research groups are creating different types of vaccines to cure infected patients at a faster and more potent rate. Some are even trying to make temporary vaccines to guard people’s health for a month or two, while the longer-lasting protection is still being tested.
Dr. Judith O’Donnell, vaccine expert and infectious disease chief at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center said that, “until we test them in humans we have absolutely no idea what the immune response will be. Having a lot of different vaccines — with a lot of different theories behind the science of generating immunity — all on a parallel track really ultimately gives us the best chance of getting something successful.”
The First step to testing these vaccines will be in small numbers of young and healthy volunteers. These participants will not get infected from the experiment, because they don’t have the virus itself. The goal is to see if these vaccines will have any side effects, which will set the stage for other experiments.
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle is already preparing to test 45 volunteers with different shots that were co-developed by NIH and Moderna Inc.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals is also next in line, as they begin safety tests to their chosen candidates that have volunteered at the University of Pennsylvania and a testing center located in Kansas City, Missouri. This study that Inovio is conducting is similar as to what both China and South Korea have done.
Director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci has stressed numerous times that even if these initial tests have a positive outcome, “you’re talking about a year to a year and a half” before pharmaceutical companies can actually administer these vaccines for widespread use.
“I can really genuinely understand everybody’s frustration and maybe even confusion. You can do everything as fast as possible, but you can’t circumvent some of these vital processes,” said Inovio’s research and development chief, Kate Broderick.
In the NIH Lab, the coronavirus is covered in a protein that was named “spike,” which allows the virus to burrow itself into human cells. Once that protein can be blocked, people won’t get infected. That makes “spike” the biggest target in the vaccine research.
Corbett’s team has a lead with this research because of all the years they had spent in trying to create a vaccine for the virus’ other cousin, MERS. They already discovered how to make proteins stable enough to immunize. They made all these spike proteins, froze them in vials and tested them on dozens of mice. Corbett mentioned that their work wouldn’t have progressed so quickly if not for all the years of law testing for the possible MERS vaccine that works similarly.
“I think about it a lot, how many of the little experimental questions we did not have to belabor” this time around, she said. When the first promising mouse tests came out, she said that, “I felt like there was a beginning of all of this coming full circle.”
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