In a piece of news that offers tentative hopes in the global fight against Coronavirus pandemic, an experimental vaccine from an American biotechnology company has shown signs that it can create an immune-system response to fend off the virus.
Officials working with Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc on Monday said its experimental COVID-19 vaccine showed promise in a small Phase 1 trial, with the vaccine producing virus-neutralizing antibodies similar to those found in recovered patients. The vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, is named mRNA-1273. Moderna started working on its COVID-19 vaccine as soon as Chinese scientists put out the gene sequence for the virus in January.
A company release quoted Dr. Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna saying, “These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection starting with a dose as low as 25 µg."
He added, “When combined with the success in preventing viral replication in the lungs of a pre-clinical challenge model at a dose that elicited similar levels of neutralizing antibodies, these data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials.”
According to Moderna, Messenger RNA, or mRNA, plays a fundamental role in human biology, transferring the instructions stored in DNA to make the proteins required in every living cell. The company says its approach is to use mRNA medicines to instruct a patient’s own cells to produce proteins that could prevent, treat, or cure disease. If the vaccine works, those proteins then trigger the body to generate protective antibodies.
The company says mRNA-1273 is an mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 encoding for a prefusion stabilized form of the Spike (S) protein, which was selected by Moderna in collaboration with investigators from Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the NIH. The first clinical batch was completed on February 7, 2020, and underwent analytical testing. The first participant in the NIAID-led Phase 1 study was dosed on March 16, 63 days from sequence selection to Phase 1 study dosing.
The Phase 2 trial, with 600 patients, will begin shortly, according to the company; and Phase 3 trial initiation is expected in July. The need to get a vaccine gains urgency by every passing day as the world grapples with over 4.7 million cases of COVID-19 and around three lakh dead. Governments, drug companies, and academic institutions globally are pouring resources to find a cure, which experts say may take over a year to develop.