Human ingenuity & perseverance

Durgesh Modi

In times of this pandemic genuine good news are hard to come by. This is one of them. Race for a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is like a marathon that is being run at the pace of a 100 meter sprint. With more than 100 vaccine candidates in the pipeline, vaccine developed by the Jenner Institute of the Oxford University is the clear front runner. The institute, named after Edward Jenner, the English physician who developed the small pox vaccine & revolutionized the field preventive medicine, is currently headed by professor Adrian Hill. Prof Hill has been at the forefront of vaccine science for many years with most of his research for malaria, ebola & MERS vaccines.

Instead of the classical way of viral vaccine making where the weakened version of a virus is used to trigger an immune response, this vaccine uses different approach. First, a different virus, in this case a respiratory virus found in chimpanzees, is modified to neutralize it's effects. Later the same virus was tweaked to mimic the SARS-CoV-2. Initially it was developed to fight the MERS virus, a close relative of SARS-CoV-2. When cases began to increase in China in late January, with full viral genome sequence being released by the Chinese scientists, Jenner institute decided to alott some resources for a small vaccine project for this novel coronavirus. Little did they know that their small project, in just 2 month's time would spreadhead the search for a vaccine against the deadliest pandemic in over 100 years.

In the preclinical phase of the trial, 6 rhesus macaque monkeys vaccinated with this vaccine showed no signs of illness even after 28 days after being exposed to large quantities of SARS-CoV-2 virus. Similar exposures consistently caused infections in other monkeys. Phase I is already underway with 1100 people in randomized placebo controlled clinical trial. Aside from measurements of antibody production - i.e. body's response to the vaccine, this is the phase in which safety & tolerability between the actual vaccine & a placebo are measured in a relatively smaller group of healthy human subjects.

Multicenter combined phase II & III trials consisting of more than 5000 participants is expected to begin before the end of May, 2020 which may also include Indian collaboration. This larger scale part of the trial will see researchers continually monitor vaccine's efficacy, along with it's immunogenicity & toxicity. If all goes well, this vaccine may get it's fasttrack FDA approval by September of this year. The Jenner institute has already made clear that it will not sell it's exclusive rights/patent to any company to prevent profiteering in these distressing times. 6 asian & european firms have already signed up for the mass production of this potential vaccine, pune based Serum Institute of India being of them. Serum institute is even going to invest a substantial amount of money & resources on starting the vaccine production by May end, so that if the vaccine gets FDA approval by September, world doesn't have to wait for further 2-3 months to start deploying it.

Even if this vaccine doesn't succeed, it will teach us a great deal more about this devious virus which in turn will be helpful in all future vaccine making efforts. Humankind will win the fight against this treacherous virus & it will not be by god's grace or some miracle but by human ingenuity & perseverance

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features