Cover photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder.
In the past two months, ELEVATION has reported several times on notable advancements in the search for effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Progress continues around the world at a breakneck pace. Governments, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and universities are investing incalculable energy and resources into the race for a cure, and are coordinating their global efforts in wholly unprecedented ways. As of today, the Milken Institute counts 223 treatments that are in consideration and 141 vaccines that are in development.
Read on for some of the latest significant developments.
Ad5-nCoV Vaccine Trials In China
CanSino Biologics Inc. has developed a vaccine candidate that uses an impotent common cold virus to deliver genetic material into human cells. The immune system reacts to the infection by creating antibodies that fight off the coronavirus. After a phase 1 trial on 108 participants in Wuhan, China, researchers confirmed that “the Ad5 vectored COVID-19 vaccine is tolerable and immunogenic at 28 days post-vaccination.” The full text of the report is available in The Lancet medical journal.
These results represent an important milestone. The trial demonstrates that a single dose of the new adenovirus type 5 vectored COVID-19 (Ad5-nCoV) vaccine produces virus-specific antibodies and T cells in 14 days, making it a potential candidate for further investigation.Professor Wei Chen, study co-author, Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
A Convalescent Plasma Study In New York
Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City recently posted encouraging results of a study on the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. Utilizing a technique developed a century ago, doctors transfused 39 acutely ill, hospitalized patients with blood plasma from donors who had previously recovered from COVID-19. The preprint (i.e. non-peer reviewed) report concludes that “plasma recipients were more likely than control patients to remain the same or have improvements in their supplemental oxygen requirements.” Furthermore, “plasma recipients also demonstrated improved survival, compared to control patients.” Non-intubated patients benefited more than those on ventilators. View the full report at the online health sciences archive medRxiv.org.
The Moderna mRNA Vaccine Phase 1 Study
On Monday, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna, Inc. announced the results of a Phase 1 study of its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The study was led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). According to Moderna, the vaccine safely stimulated antibody production in all 45 study participants and, of the volunteers who have undergone follow-up testing, all 8 developed the critical “neutralizing antibodies.” However, the company has not released critical data and other researchers have yet to validate the results. Nonetheless, the Moderna team is very optimistic.
… these data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials.Tal Zaks, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer at Moderna
An In Vitro Experiment Succeeds in San Diego
On May 15, the relatively small biopharmaceutical company Sorrento Therapeutics, Inc. announced that it had developed an antibody that has “demonstrated 100% inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection” in a labratory setting. The STI-1499 antibody has not been tested on humans yet and the results of the study have not been peer-reviewed. The California-based company’s stock market value increased by over 240% on the day of the announcement.
Hydroxychloroquine May Be Both Ineffective And Dangerous
Although various doctors reported anecdotally that they successfully used the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients, recent studies have demonstrated that it is not effective and may be harmful. The discouraging news comes at the same time that President Trump, who has repeatedly advocated for hydroxychloroquine, declared that he is currently taking the unproven drug as a preventative measure.
A study published in The Lancet concludes that both hydroxychloroquine and the related compound chloroquine significantly increased the risk of in-hospital mortality among the 14,888 patients who were treated with the drug. In fact, those patients died at more than twice the rate of patients in the control group. Additionally, the drugs greatly increased the risk of a serious cardiac event called ventricular arrhythmia. On April 30, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine due to the risk of hearth rhythm problems.