Race for vaccine tests limits of drug innovation
Paris: From medical workers struggling to care for the rising tide of COVID-19 patients to the billions of people told to stay home to slow the pandemic, everyone is waiting for one thing: a vaccine.
There is no known treatment for the new coronavirus that emerged in China late last year and has since proliferated across the planet, infecting more than half a million people and claiming more than 30,000 lives.
In mid-January, researchers from China published the genetic sequence of the virus, firing the starting gun for dozens of research labs across the world in the race to find effective drugs.
The approaches have varied dramatically. Some teams are looking at the effects of existing medicines as potential treatments, some are experimenting with repurposing common drugs. Others are using cutting-edge technologies to fashion radically new types of vaccines. Just over 60 days after the genetic sequence of COVID-19 was shared, the first potential vaccine began human trials.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed it “an incredible achievement” and experts have raised cautious hopes that a vaccine will be ready within 18 months.
This may seem like a dauntingly long time for those in the path of the virus.
But Seth Berkley, the head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has cautioned that it normally takes between 10 and 15 years for a drug to go from development, through testing phases and onto licensing and large-scale manufacture, although the Ebola vaccine was ready in five.
“How lucky will we be in getting a good immune response? Which approaches will work? Will they be scalable?” he said in an interview with the TED organisation last week. – AFP