In a race against the rapid spread of the coronavirus, researchers and pharmacists around the world are working against the clock to stop the epidemic, which has more than 80,000 infected and 2,700 dead , most in China, since it erupted in December. In less than two months, China itself, the United States and Australia claim to have already produced vaccines that they are preparing to test as soon as possible.
The first was Australia, where the University of Queensland developed test doses in just six weeks using a type of molecular technology invented in this country, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. On January 11, when the global coronavirus alarm had not yet gone off, Queensland researchers began working on its genome, which had been released online by Chinese scientists. Without needing the virus, they focused on its genetic sequence and identified a section, known as a spicular protein, which is the one they had to attack. To do this, they used a “molecular clamp technology”invented by the University itself that changes the shape of the spicular protein so that the immune system can identify it and neutralize the coronavirus. Already produced, the vaccine will be tested first on animals and then on humans. Although testing times typically last 12 to 18 months, they could be shortened if they give positive results, and the urgency of the epidemic requires it.
In the U.S., a small Massachusetts biotech firm, called Moderna, shipped its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines Monday to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. As stated in the “Wall Street Journal”, the Institute will start clinical trials with 20 or 25 healthy volunteers in late April to verify that the vaccine is safe and provokes an immune system response that protects against infection. If everything goes as planned, the first results could be available in July or August.
And in China, the source of the epidemic, Tianjin University on Tuesday announced the creation “with success” of an oral vaccine that uses brewer’s yeast (“saccharomyces cerevisiae”), a single-cell fungus widely used in genomic analysis, to attack the spicular protein and produce antibodies. According to the Communist Party speaker Global Times newspaper, the professor who led the project himself, Huang Jinhai, has tried four doses and suffered no side effects.
“The vaccine has a high level of safety, is adequate, and can be rapidly produced on a large scale,” Dr. Huang explained in a statement, who promises that the intake of capsules, pills, or granulated sachets stimulates mucosal immunization to prevent infection and could serve as therapy for those already infected. After developing it, Tianjin University is seeking funds or partners to begin clinical trials. But, a few hours after giving the news, the “Global Times” published another, casting doubt and criticism on this supposed vaccine, so necessary to stop an epidemic that continues to spread throughout the world.