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COVID-19 Vaccine Development: The Story So Far

Amidst rumors of genetic conspiracy theories, COVID-19 has become a domain for pharmaceutical companies to rush with drug developments and repurposing. Besides the COVID-19 vaccine development ruckus, various companies have started preclinical testing to develop therapeutic COVID-19 vaccines. The advancements predominantly include mRNA vaccines followed by combination vaccines, genetic vaccines, and re-engineered vaccines.

Here are some of the significant efforts concerned with2019-nCoV research and vaccine development:

(a) The University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, announced a vaccine candidate that initiated antibody development in humanized mice models, in April 2020. This vaccine was designed potentially as a recombinant protein to target the coronavirus Spike protein. The vaccines were reported to have quite remarkable immunogenicity after a 14-day period. With this research, long-term immunogenicity of SARS CoV-S1 immunogen was established and the research also emphasized on the effectiveness of microneedle array-mediated immunization instead of traditional intramuscular or subcutaneous administration. The major advantage of this microneedle method lies in delivering vaccines with a sustainable antigen-dose delivery.

(b) The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has started a phase I trial testing with an mRNA vaccine, co-developed with Moderna Therapeutics. The mRNA vaccines are relied on for their cost-effectiveness and high potency. They are considered as safer alternatives to traditional live attenuated vaccines. Although viral mRNA vaccines have previously been limited by their cell delivery techniques, this vaccine (mRNA-1273) has been designed within lipid nanoparticle dispersion. This lipid coating helps in inhibiting the cell membrane fusion between the coronavirus Spike protein and hACE2 receptors.

(c) Two other big companies working behind coronavirus mRNA vaccines are Pfizer and BioNTech. Their vaccine candidate, BNT162, is designed to target the coronavirus pathogen using mRNA target formats based on on uridine-containing mRNA, nucleoside modifications, and self-amplifying mRNA.Clinical trials based on BNT162 will initiate by the end of April 2020.

(d) Another mode of vaccine development concerned with nanoparticle non-viral delivery has been designed by an academia-industry collaboration between Duke-NUS Medical School and Arcturus Therapeutics. This design focuses on combining self-replicating RNA with nanoparticle non-viral delivery to initiate intrinsic therapeutic protein production. The research is ongoing and will soon be investigated for COVID-19 infections.

(e) According to the World Health Organization reports, more than 40 vaccine candidates against SARS-COV-2 are under preclinical development and testing. These candidates include DNA vaccines, recombinant peptides, mRNA vaccines, inactivated viral particles, live-attenuated vaccines, and non-replicating viral vectors. These candidates have been gathered from several academic and industrial set-ups all over the world.

While COVID-19 vaccine development is underway, the US organization FDA has approved the first serological test developed by a North-Carolina based company under the ‘Emergency Use Authorization’ policy. This test can detect coronavirus antibodies that are generated as part of the human immune response to the virus infection. According to FDA, this test can help in detecting SARS-COV-2, even if patients do not show symptoms. Several other companies are also coming up with bedside test kits and vaccines to fight this pandemic. All we need to do is support the scientific researchers and medical personnel by following proper precautions and managing our self-quarantined self.

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