“Take these things with a grain of salt”
Animal testing for the AstraZeneca candidate, made in partnership with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, has yielded lackluster results, according to results on the preprint server BioRxiv, which have not been peer-reviewed.
“The results were not bad, but they were not gangbusters,” Bottazzi said. The results show the vaccine offered only partial protection.
“Partial protection is better than no protection,” she noted. “You have to take these things with a grain of salt. We don’t know what’s going to happen in humans.”
As for the Moderna candidate, Bottazzi said, “the good news is they found an appropriate safety profile. But from an eight-person group to make the extrapolation that they have efficacy — it’s unrealistic.”
Nicole Lurie, MD, MSPH, is senior adviser to the CEO for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), a nongovernmental organization funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Commission, and eight countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Japan, Norway, and the United Kingdom) charged with supporting development of vaccines for pathogens on WHO’s priority list.
She and her colleagues write in a paper published online in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 30 that “it typically takes multiple candidates and many years to produce a licensed vaccine.”
The fastest time for developing a vaccine to date is 4 years, for the mumps vaccine, licensed in 1967.
As to whether she would expect a rollout of any vaccine by the end of the year, Lurie told Medscape Medical News, “If everything goes according to plan in every way, shape or form, well then maybe you can get there. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Lurie and her colleagues write that “it’s far from certain that these new platforms will be scalable or that existing capacity can provide sufficient quantities of vaccine fast enough.”
On a call with reporters today, leaders of some of the words largest pharmaceutical companies said that one of the key bottlenecks is the sheer number of vials needed in order to distribute billions of doses of a successful vaccine.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, DVM, PhD, said, “Typically we are producing vaccines in single-dose vials. We are exploring with governments right now if it would be more convenient if there were 5-dose vials or 10-dose vials. I think we can resolve a significant part of the bottleneck.”
Despite the challenges, experts interviewed for this article agree that it will be possible to make a vaccine for COVID-19. They don’t expect attempts to meet the same complications that HIV researchers have seen over decades as the virus continues to confound with mutations.
Fred Ledley, MD, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News, “There doesn’t appear to be anything terribly diabolical about this virus. The mutation rate doesn’t appear to be anything like HIV. It appears to have some big, ugly proteins on the surface, which is good for vaccines — proteins with a lot of physical features look distinguishable from healthy cells. Signs all point to that it should be possible to make a vaccine.”