National consortium aims to finish local COVID-19 vaccine in 18 months

Ruben Fields
July 4, 2020

Apart from Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine named Covaxin, yet another Indian pharmaceutical company, Zydus Cadila has got permission for human trials of a vaccine developed by it.

"It is envisaged to launch the vaccine for public use latest by August 15 after completion of all clinical trials".

Bharat Biotech plans to enroll 375 people in the first phase and 750 people in the second phase of clinical trials, said an ICMR spokesperson.

World Health Organisation data shows that as many as 18 vaccine candidates are now in the clinical evaluation phase worldwide.

While the Bharat Biotech timeline is ambitious compared to other efforts, India's mature medical manufacturing sector and its large population, from which human trial volunteers can be easily found, are factors that could help accelerate the usual vaccine development process.

"Vaccines usually take years to develop".

Zydus said, with its ZyCoV-D, it has successfully established the DNA vaccine platform in India using non-replicating and non-integrating plasmid carrying the gene of interest making it very safe. Before that, the NIV had isolated the SARS-CoV-2 strain and passed it to the company.

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A senior scientist who has been on various global vaccine development projects highlighted said, "Even if done with little caution, phase 1 trial itself is not possible in this time frame, let alone public health use of the vaccine".

About the company Bharat Biotech is also the maker of the world's cheapest Hepatitis vaccine.

'We expect to be the first to start a Phase 3 trial, ' the company said in a statement posted to Twitter.

India's apex medical research body, ICMR has been working with twelve institutes for clinical trials of the first domestically-produced vaccine against COVID-19.

Indian Immunologicals (IIL) is also conducting preclinical trials on small animals and non-human primates. The collaboration with ICMR and NIV was instrumental in the development of this vaccine. Compressing the stages of testing and trials severely compromises on the safety assurance, say experts. BBIL is working expeditiously to meet the target, however, the final outcome will depend on the cooperation of all clinical trial sites involved in this project, ' Dr. Bhargava said in his communication.

'The furthest along in USA testing is an experimental vaccine from NIH's vaccine research center in partnership with Moderna, ' NIH Director Francis Collins said at Senate Appropriations hearing earlier on Thursday.

But a vaccine is the best hope to stop the ever-climbing coronavirus death toll, so countries, companies and scientists the world-over have been racing to trim the timeline to a year, or less.

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