Why is a vaccine against coronavirus develop so long: a scientific explanation

To develop a vaccine against coronavirus trying more than 150 teams of scientists around the world. Why this process takes so much time and when it received the long-awaited result? Tells DW.

Почему вакцину от коронавируса разрабатывают так долго: научное объяснение

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Attempts to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are in full swing around the world. Currently, to achieve this goal, the participants try more than 150 research projects. Especially a lot of scientists working on this task in Germany. But only a tenth part of all the projects is in the stage of clinical trials.

For so long ago in Brazil and South Africa have begun clinical trials of a vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) developed by the University of Oxford. In Brazil, especially hard-hit by the pandemic COVID-19, the vaccine is tested on thousands of health care workers. An overview of the vaccine candidates is on the site of the world health organization (who), the list is constantly being updated.

What types of vaccines are being developed?

No matter how varied the projects on development of vaccines, mainly explore three types: inactivated vaccine with viral proteins, live recombinant (vector) vaccines, and genetic vaccines (mRNA-vaccine).

In the first case we are talking about vaccines containing proteins “killed” viruses, which are heated or treated with ionizing radiation or disinfectants. The body recognizes the dead virus and reacts to them by creating antibodies, but without causing disease. Using this technology was created, for example, vaccines against polio, hepatitis b, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus or flu.

Live vector vaccines are based on harmless, weakened viruses (vectors), which integrated gene — a small section of the genome of SARS-CoV-2. Vectors serve as transporters of pathogens for delivery to cells. Once there, genetically modified viruses multiply inside the cells and trigger the immune response to proteins of SARS-CoV-2. This way was created the vaccine against measles, chickenpox, mumps and rubella.

If pathogenic organisms have the ability for rapid genetic changes or create the threat of new infectious diseases, as in the case of zika fever or SARS SARS, classic anti-virus vaccine is not particularly effective. Therefore, great hopes are being pinned on the so-called mRNA-vaccine.

The principle of these vaccines is that they contain viral molecule — messenger RNA (mRNA), which is encapsulated in the lipid nanoparticle. Once in the body, the mRNA enters the cell and begins to synthesize pathogenic-specific antigens that provoke an immune response.

Technology is good because mRNA — a fairly simple molecule, so it can be produced relatively quickly and in very large quantities. However, this method causes the greatest concern. The problem is that old, time-tested vaccines of this type simply do not exist, so it is unknown how it will behave in the human body.

Why is the vaccine lasts so long?

In the past, the development of safe and effective vaccines have taken up to 20 years, and the cost of this process does not exceed one billion euros (1.1 billion dollars). Fortunately, many companies and research institutes together to work together. Interdisciplinary collaboration not only saves the cost of the vaccine, but more valuable resource — time.

The main priorities in the development of a new vaccine is its safety and effectiveness. In addition, the vaccine should be readily available and inexpensive.

First of all, scientists are investigating the pathogen. Then developed vaccine candidates that are carefully studied in the process of preclinical and clinical studies designed to establish the level of effectiveness of new drugs and the possibility of side effects. After the vaccine is finally created and certified, you will need to establish its mass production and worldwide shipping and then to begin mass vaccination.

Usually the development of a vaccine occurs in several stages, which under normal conditions might take 15-20 years, even if some phases of the process partly take place in parallel. But the pandemic coronavirus contributed to the development of new vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 is carried out in fast time. This became possible due to existing knowledge about coronaviruses, “relative” which is a SARS-CoV-2. So some phases of the development process could be skipped and the testing of vaccine candidates to start on the volunteers already six months after the beginning of the pandemic.

The vaccine may appear in 2021

There are too many unexpected factors, so cannot confidently say when will be ready the vaccine. The who is confident that this year will be produced hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine, and in 2021 — two billion more. Scientists in many countries working to develop vaccine candidates in parallel, so the probability that one of them will be effective increases significantly.

The European medicines Agency (EMA) expects that if all goes according to plan, the drug that protects against SARS-CoV-2, will be approved by the spring of 2021, which in itself will be a record achievement in the development of a vaccine.

Vaccine development: big profits, huge costs

Worldwide needed billions of doses of vaccine. And, of course, their trade can earn good money. In recent weeks it has repeatedly led to sharp fluctuations in the markets or to the emergence of the wildest conspiracy theories.

Much less is said about the fact that the development of a vaccine, its production and the subsequent vaccination campaigns associated with huge costs.

Often the inefficiency of the vaccine candidate is revealed only at the last stage of clinical studies or certification is delayed. In such cases, lost millions already invested funds. Particularly sensitive financial loss in cases where pharmaceutical companies to save time, begin production of the vaccine in parallel with clinical trials, and then they have to destroy the already made batch.

To more evenly distribute the costs and risks associated with developing new medicines, many organizations involved in their development, — government and nonprofit, as well as companies, foundations and research institutions merged into the international Fund “Partnership for the development of medicinal products” (Product Development Partnerships (PDPs)).

Global epidemic Fund-PDP — usually in the form of grants — are provided by companies or research institutes, which without this support it would be difficult to find new vaccines. Thanks to the funds of the PDP was created, for example, the drugs against malaria and tuberculosis.

Europe is counting on the solidarity of

During the recent international marathon to raise funds to combat the coronavirus have managed to collect of 6.15 billion euros, which will go towards the development of a vaccine against coronavirus and its methods of diagnosis and treatment. Virtual summit of donor countries on 27 June, only the European Commission and Germany have pledged to invest almost 5.3 billion euros (5.9 billion dollars). European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Ursula von der Leyen) said about the incredible result. Large donations were made by the United States and Canada.

In early June, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands were United in the “Alliance for inclusion in the vaccine”, which aims to boost the development of the drug from SARS-CoV-2 on the territory of the European Union and to ensure the production of the vaccine was suitable for this purpose, the enterprises within the EU. The Alliance wants to get the right amount of doses not only for the EU but for other countries, especially poor countries of Africa. To join this organization can and other countries.

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