HOUSTON – There is some possible encouraging news on the coronavirus vaccine front. Drugmaker Moderna says early data from a small clinical trial shows people given the potential vaccine developed antibodies against the virus.
According to the Biotech company, the Phase 1 data is only from the first eight participants in the trial. However, they all developed antibodies at levels that reached or exceeded those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19. They also developed what is known as neutralizing antibodies, which are the type needed to fight the virus. The experimental vaccine appeared to be safe and well-tolerated.
"We could not be happier about this interim data," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said during a conference call Monday. He said the results indicate the vaccine has a "high probability to provide protection from COVID-19 disease in humans.”
In total, 45 study participants each received two doses of the vaccine, about a month apart. Participants were given one of three dosage levels. Moderna said those who received the two lower doses developed COVID-19 antibodies about two weeks after the second dose. The only side effect was redness around the area where people got the shot.
In earlier mouse studies, the vaccine prevented the virus from reproducing in the animals’ lungs. The vaccine will now move into a larger study.
“The second phase will have about 600 people and then they’ll do a much larger third phase which they are hoping to start in July,” explained Dr. John Torres, NBC News Chief Medical Correspondent. “That’s the one that will give us a lot of answers and once we are through that, if all goes well, then we’ll get the vaccine. But that could still take a few months and most experts expect a vaccine in early 2021 at the earliest.”
The race to find a vaccine: Operation Warp Speed
The push for a coronavirus vaccine is on the fast track. Last week, President Trump unveiled a new White House effort aimed at developing and distributing a vaccine.
“Under Operation Warp Speed, the federal government will invest in manufacturing all of the top vaccine candidates before they're approved,” said Trump. “So we're knowing exactly what we're doing before they're approved. That means they better come up with a good vaccine because we're ready to deliver it.”
Most experts say it takes at least 12 to 18 months to develop, test, and produce a vaccine.
Genetic code vaccine
Earlier this month, Researchers at Pfizer and NYU announced efforts to create a unique genetic code vaccine. The vaccine carries the genetic code known as “messenger RNA” that teaches the cells in the body to make the proteins associated with the coronavirus but without making someone sick. The hope is that the body’s immune system can then fight off COVID-19 after getting the vaccine.
Dr. Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine, who is developing a vaccine himself, says this type of vaccine has had success in animal trials but never in humans. He thinks Pfizer is rushing it.
“We shouldn’t have magical thinking that we’re going to have a vaccine in a matter of weeks or months,” Hotez said.
Right now there are at least 80 possible vaccines in the works around the world.