Amidst the growing threat of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in India, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said in the Rajya Sabha today that the country was fully prepared to fight the outbreak and that there was no need to panic. Dr Harsh Vardhan said that scientists of the country were testing the prototypes of a vaccine and that the government had been very prompt in tackling the “notified disaster”.
Overseas, China, Italy and the United States have taken stringent measures like lockdown and isolation, but there is no visible success in checking COVID-19. This, even though much before the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) declaration of the disease as a global pandemic, scientists around the world had begun working on a vaccine.
The intent in the community of scientists is as strong as was seen during the epidemics of diseases caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola.
China first completed the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material test and shared it with scientists around the world in late-January after Australia complained that it was not sharing the virus strain. This was followed by rapid work towards the development of a prototype and then effective vaccine testing and data collection.
The US National Institute for Health has said that it will now take three months to collect data after the first trial starts in March. After this, the next phase will start, it has informed.
Vaccine development in medicine
More than 50 medical institutes and companies worldwide are working day and night to make a COVID-19 vaccine. Four companies in China, the US and Israel have tested the vaccine on animals.
The US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is collaborating with scientists from private companies for the purpose. French company Sanofi Pasteur and Johnson & Johnson are working together in this project.
On 16 March, Moderna, Boston’s best biotech company, took a bold step when it started testing the vaccine on human beings as well.
According to a survey by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, in addition to government institutions, large companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi and smaller companies like Moderna and Glide Sciences are increasingly testing the vaccine. It is but unlikely that the vaccine will enter the market this year.
American vaccine may hit market in 18 months
According to news agency Associated Press, the US has gone through human testing of the COVID vaccine. In Seattle’s Kaiser Permanent Research Facility, the vaccine was first administered to a 43-year-old woman named Jennifer, the mother of two children. The first trial involved 45 healthy youth.
American pharmaceutical company Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, which is funding it, developed this vaccine. It will take 18 months to prepare it even if the trial is successful.
Generally, the preliminary tests of a vaccine are done on animals, but given the impact of the epidemic, it has been tested on human beings early.
India crosses first stage
In India, Scientists at the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) have succeeded in isolating strains of the COVID-19. Separating the strain of the virus will go a long way in creating kits for screening, drug detection and vaccine research.
So far, the US, Japan, Thailand and China are the only four countries in the world that have achieved this success. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist Priya Abraham said that India had crossed the first stage to protect human beings against COVID.
There are 6,000 tests conducted every day in India. Further, more than 1 million kits have been ordered. ICMR is considering using private hospitals for testing., Abraham said.
Update from China
According to China Central Television, its government, military and companies are looking for concrete solutions after the first COVID cases came to light in Wuhan. A team led by 53-year-old Chen Wei, a medical expert from the People’s Liberation Army, has been successful in creating a clinical application of a COVID vaccine.
It’s the same team that had created vaccines to ward off dangerous viruses such as SARS and Ebola.
When the prototype of the vaccine was made, Chen decided to first test it on himself. Inspired by him, seven members of the Communist Party of China got vaccinated.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the Government of China has reported it has created a new mRNA vaccine from COVID in collaboration with the Tongji University School of Medicine and Systemina Therapeutics Company.
The vaccine has been tested on mice. The team is now testing it on humans.
According to newspaper Haaretz, the Institute of Biological Research under the Prime Minister’s Office has taken the fastest step towards making a vaccine for COVID-19. Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that scientists had succeeded in identifying the characteristics and biological function of the COVID. He said that more than 50 experienced scientists at the institute were engaged in making vaccines.
However, the Israeli vaccine has yet to go through the several stages of testing on human subjects and this work may take months.
After successful testing of a vaccine in humans after animals, it will be sent for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the WHO of the US.
According to a report in The Australian, in the Indian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Richers Organisation (CSIRO), India-born Prof SS Wasan and his team are working fast towards making the vaccine. Prof Vasan said, “My team would like to thank our colleagues of the Doherty Institute who removed the virus and gave it to us so that it could be researched.” At present, the entire team is studying the virus in depth.
A team of Queensland University scientists Paul Young, Keith Chappell and Trent Munro are moving apace in this direction. After about 250 different formulations, they have succeeded in creating a prototype that can be used on mice.
Australian scientists will be able to test it on humans in the next three months.