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How the world made so much progress on a Covid-19 vaccine so fast

STAT reports:

Never before have prospective vaccines for a pathogen entered final-stage clinical trials as rapidly as candidates for Covid-19.

Just six months ago, when the death toll from the coronavirus stood at one and neither it nor the disease it caused had a name, a team of Chinese scientists uploaded its genetic sequence to a public site. That kicked off the record-breaking rush to develop vaccines — the salve that experts say could ultimately quell the pandemic.

The colossal impact of the coronavirus is motivating the speed, opening a spigot of funding and inspiring research teams around the world to join the hunt. But the astonishing pace of the progress is also a consequence of the virus itself: It is, scientifically speaking, an easier target for potential vaccines than other pathogens, and a prime candidate for cutting-edge vaccine platforms new to scientists’ toolkits.

“Once we got the sequence, we pulled the trigger to ask how fast we could go,” said Barney Graham, the deputy director of the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center. “And because it was a coronavirus, we could get into a Phase 3 trial in six months instead of two years.”

Of course, progress so far remains just that. The vaccines are now facing their real tests: the monthslong, Phase 3 trials that will demonstrate whether or not they protect people from the virus.

“This is a huge experiment and no one knows how it’s going to turn out,” said James Le Duc, the director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Galveston National Laboratory.

Vaccines typically take years, if not decades, to reach people; the record now is four years for the mumps vaccine. Here’s what has propelled the Covid-19 endeavor to eclipse prior efforts so far. [Continue reading…]

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