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It’s now a race against time to find a cure

Published : Friday, 10 July, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 346
Syed Badiuzzaman

It’s now a race against time to find a cure

It’s now a race against time to find a cure

As the worldwide confirmed cases of coronavirus have now hit a shocking 12 million, finding a cure for the disease has become a race against time for medical scientists around the globe.

And as the death toll due to the deadly disease crossed a grim 548,000 mark across the world, people in all continents of the globe from Asia to Africa and Australia to Europe and of course the Americas are just hoping and praying for a vaccine that will protect them from the global pandemic.

So, the question is: where are we standing at this moment in the race for a vaccine? Some companies are already working on vaccines that could be taken as a preventative measure against the virus while others are working on various antiviral drugs to treat people infected with COVID-19.

Many groups have already begun their work and currently there are more than 100 projects around the world on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Several COVID-19 vaccines are entering mass trial stage this summer and presently there are over a dozen COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of human studies around the world. 

Eight candidate vaccines underwent clinical trials in humans in May. Large scale testing is expected this month for possible availability of a vaccine in January next, an official at the National Institutes of Health told Healthline, an American website that provides health information. But other experts suggest it may be delayed through summer or fall 2021.

Oxford University began a clinical trial with some 500 participants in April and officials say the potential vaccine has eighty percent chance of success and the vaccine can be available as early as September. The vaccine uses a modified virus to trigger the immune system, say researchers. The university has partnered with AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company.
In March, American biotech company Moderna started testing its vaccine in a phase I clinical trial in Seattle, Washington. The company announced that in the initial clinical phase the vaccine had produced antibodies in all 45 trial participants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already permitted Moderna to begin phase II study of its vaccine. The company is expected to start its phase III clinical trial this month. 

Inovio Pharmaceuticals, another American biotechnology company, had already been working on a DNA vaccine for MERS when COVID-19 broke out in China in December. It helped the company hurriedly develop a potential COVID-9 vaccine. The company announced it had already enlisted 40 volunteers for its phase I clinical trial and it would conduct its phase II and Phase III clinical studies this summer. 

Johnson & Johnson, another American multinational corporation and Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical company are also working on COVID-19 vaccines. Johnson & Johnson will begin its initial stage human clinical trials this month. Meanwhile, Pfizer, also an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation, has joined German biotech company BioNTech to develop a coronavirus vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. government awarded Nonavax Inc., an American vaccine development company $1.6 billion for testing and manufacturing of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also invested an additional about $3 billion in several other companies working on developmentof a potential vaccine and drugs to treat coronavirus. They include Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca and Emergent Biosolutions Inc.

However, Anthony Fauci of the American National Institutes of Health and world's one of the leading experts on infectious diseases said a vaccine won't be available for largescale use for another 12 to 18 months. This amount of time is required to complete the phase III clinical studies. He said multiple successful vaccines may be needed to meet the massive demand for vaccinating billions of people around the world.

But not everyone agrees with Fauci. They are rather hopeful about an early development of successful COVID-19 vaccines. Some experts believe that they may see some vaccines as early as by the end of the year. But others, as Healthline reported, are worried that many people after getting vaccine may stop following health guidelines altogether, such as handwashing with soap water and staying home during sickness. 

According to some scientists, a "human challenge trial" could significantly speed up the clinical studies of the vaccine. In such trials, healthy volunteers take a potential vaccine and then intentionally get infected with the virus. However, a "human challenge trial" has many ethical issues and that there are no plans for this kind of trial in the United States. But some 30,000 people in about 145 countries have already signed up to participate in this type of trial. 

In May, the FDA gave authorization for emergency use of two medications---antiviral remdesivir and another drug to sedate people on a ventilator and in March the FDA gave authorization for emergency use of anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine but later cancelled the second authorization after studies showed they would not be effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

An emergency use authorization fordrugs givesthe doctors permission to use them to treat people with coronavirus even before those drugs will have gone through the formal approval process of the FDA. These drugs are still undergoing clinical trials to examine whether or not they will be effective for treating people with COVID-19. Experts say it may be months before treatments will be available and even longer for a vaccine.

The Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) has also got approval from Health Canada to conduct Canada's first clinical trials of a potential vaccine against COVID-19. Prime Minister Justine Trudeau made this announcement recently and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that CanSino Biologics, a Chinese company had developed the Canadian COVID-19 vaccine candidate. A Canadian expert team of 45 people is working with the company. 

In Canada, currently there are no authorized drugs or vaccines to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. However, there are certain authorized medications which may ease certain symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and cough. Potential COVID-19 drugs being investigated in Canadian clinical trials include antiviral drugs, anti-malarial drugs, monoclonal antibodies and other drugs that address inflammation, convalescent plasma, medical gases and vaccines. 

Many people in many countries of the world may have a lot of questions about how vaccines work. Usually a vaccine trains the immune system to recognize and attack the virus when it encounters it. The greatest benefit of the vaccine is that it protects both the persons who are vaccinated as well as the community. Vaccinated people cannot be infected by viruses, which also means they cannot spread the virus to others---a process known as "herd immunity."

The world is praying for the prevention and cure of COVID-19. But currently there are no authorized vaccines or drugs for either. Vaccines against pneumonia do not work to treat patients with coronavirus. But the hope is the medical scientistsare racing against time to find a cure for the disease. 

The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network

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