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The runners in the COVID-19 vaccine race

A round-up of the most promising candidates to help immunise the world's population to end the pandemic

AstraZeneca - The runners in the COVID-19 vaccine race

According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently 31 candidate vaccines going through clinical trials and 142 projects still in the making.

Having several potential jabs is beneficial since vaccines rarely make it to commercialisation, while different segments of the populations may need diverse formulations.

Experts see a mass immunisation as the most effective way to end the pandemic until an effective treatment for coronavirus is found.

Governments have poured money into research: the EU has raised €16bn under the Coronavirus Global Response, the US has struck supply deals for US$10.79bn as part of Operation Warp Speed, the UK allocated £131mln to University of Oxford and Imperial College London as well as growing its potential stockpile to 340mln inoculations.

Here we have a look at the most promising candidates.

The Oxford vaccine

The Jenner Institute at Oxford University signed a deal with AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) to produce and distribute its candidate, now at the final stage of trials on 30,000 people across the UK, US, South Africa, England, Russia and Brazil.

Trials were halted in early September after a UK volunteer reported serious side effects; they later resumed in the UK and Brazil but were still on hold in the US.

The FTSE 100-listed firm has sourced capacity for 2bn doses and agreed to distribute 100mln in the UK, 300mln in the EU and 400mln in Latin American countries.

Oxford’s Professor Andrew Pollard said in August data could be put before regulators as early as this year but ensuring safety and efficacy is paramount.

Pfizer and BioNTech

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) teamed up with BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) to develop four candidates, with one of them potentially ready for regulatory scrutiny by October.

The pair could have 100mln dose ready by the end of the year, with the ability to supply 1.3bn doses by the end of next year.

The mRNA-based vaccine, that is now in phase II/III, showed a “promising” safety and immunogenicity profile in the first round of trials and it was reported to provoke mild-to-moderate side effects such as fatigue, headache, chills and muscle pain. 

In July, the US government agreed to pay Pfizer and BioNTech US$1.95bn to secure access to 100mln doses of their coronavirus vaccine.

Moderna

Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRNA) stunned the markets in the spring after developing a candidate in only 63 days.

The candidate entered the final stage of trials on 30,000 volunteers in the US in July and expects to complete enrollment in September.

The biotech, which has never commercialised a vaccine, has produced enough doses for the trials and remains on track to deliver 500mln and potentially up to 1bn jabs per year, beginning in 2021.

Sanofi and GSK

GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) and Sanofi started the Phase 1/ 2 study September and are planning Phase 3 for December if the first stage is successful.

If data is positive, regulatory approval could be achieved by the first half of 2021.

EU, US and UK signed up for 300mln, 100mln and 60mln doses respectively.

In parallel, the partners are scaling up manufacturing of the antigen (Sanofi) and adjuvant (Glaxo) to produce up to 1bn doses per year overall.

CureVac

CureVac (NASDAQ:CVAC) is also working on a m-RNA based inoculation, and is targeting large-scale human trials for the last quarter of this year based on the results of the current trials.

The German biotech, which jumped by 300% since IPO earlier this month on the tech-led NASDAQ exchange, is discussing to supply the EU with 225mln doses.

It was subject to a tug of war between the country's government and Donald Trump, who prompted outrage by attempting to buy the low-cost developer in March.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is planning the world’s Phase III trial for September involving up to 60,000 people in the US and other countries.

If it works there is potential for 600-900mln doses to be produced by April, while it could be employed for emergency use in early 2021.

It is using the same technologies adopted for the Ebola jab provided to people in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019.

Novavax

Novavax Inc (NASDAQ:NVAX) enrolled the first volunteer for the Phase II of clinical trials in late August, expanding on Phase I by including older adults 60-84 years of age.

Data are expected in the fourth quarter of 2020.

The biotech has secured US$2bn funding for its COVID-19 vaccine programme.

The Russian vaccine

President Vladimir Putin boasted the world’s first coronavirus vaccine to be registered on August 11, but its speed has been met with scepticism.

Moscow said it would start rolling out the jab, called Sputnik V, by the end of August.

“I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine but based on everything we know – and that’s the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren’t telling us much – this has not been sufficiently tested,” Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said.

“It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I’m very sceptical about what’s going on in Russia.”

China’s special approvals

In June, CanSino Biologics Inc. announced its vaccine candidate received military specially-needed drug approval by the Chinese authorities.

Chinese soldiers will be able to receive the jab, developed in conjunction with Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, for a year.

Phase I and phase II clinical trials showed good safety profile and high levels of humoral and cellular immune response, and overall the formulation has potential to prevent diseases caused by the virus.

The Hong Kong-listed firm is planning final trials in in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil and Chile.

Meanwhile, it emerged in August that China had been using an experimental jab on ‘high risk’ workers for a month.

It was developed by Sinopharm China National Biotec Group Company, with late-stage trials conducted in the UAE, Peru, Morocco, and Argentina.

Human challenge studies

Open Orphan PLC’s (LON:ORPH) hVIVO arm is set to start phase I of a human challenge trial for a nasal vaccine for coronavirus in the autumn.

It will quarantine 48 young adults at a facility in London’s Whitechapel to assess whether the drug provokes an immune response.

This type of study sees healthy participants are vaccinated then exposed to the virus to get infected.

Usually, volunteers participating in vaccine trials are not asked to catch the virus, especially if there are many cases like in the current pandemic. This is why trials last for months.

Quick facts: AstraZeneca

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