Since this crisis began, health experts have explained the reason the COVID-19 virus is so dangerous and deadly is because there is no vaccine.
While flu kills thousands every year, so many are protected by an inoculation designed to lessen the severity and duration of symptoms.
Thursday, it was announced Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania biotech company, is beginning trials.
Dr. Kate Broderick is the vaccine developer and the Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Inovio.
She said to make a vaccine scientists first need a sample of the virus it’s designed to thwart, in this case SARS CO-V2.
“Our type of technology, which is called DNA medicines, requires the genetic sequence of the virus,” Broderick said. “And so we receive that from Chinese authorities on 10 January and actually within three hours we had designed a COVID-19 vaccine.”
In the lab, Broderick and her team at Inovio began testing the coronavirus vaccine candidate, called INO-4800.
“The results that we are getting from that so far are looking really very promising,” Broderick said. “So we’re quite confident.”
So now it is time to put it to the real test – on people – with the hope they will get a shot at immunity to COVID-19 without having to get the infection.
Phase one tests the safety of the vaccine.
“And that’s really primarily asking in a small group of people, is the vaccine safe and is it immunogenic,” Broderick said. “Immunogenic (means) is it giving the right kind of antibodies T cells, the right kind of immune responses, that we hope would be protective against a virus.”
That is the standard protocol for clinical trials. Although thanks to the emergency authorization to expedite the process, getting the vaccine to the larger testing state will be far more rapid.
The next step will look at efficacy.
“It asks the question, ‘Is the vaccine effective?’” Broderick said. “Which means will it actually protect you from contracting the disease.
Here’s how it should work: The vaccine contains a tiny part of the SARS CO-V-2 genetic sequence. Once injected into the body, it triggers the immune system to recognize the infectious agent. Think of it like a Most Wanted poster. With SARS COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in full view.
“It provides the body basically a template, a poster, of what the virus looks like,” Broderick said. “So when the virus, or if the virus, should infect you, your body already knows exactly what the bad guy looks like.”
40 healthy adult participants in Philadelphia and Missouri will receive the first inoculations.
“We are hoping at Inovio we will have 1 million doses of our vaccine ready by the end of the year,” Broderick said. “And we’re also working with manufacturers to ramp up so that we can get numbers that are appropriate for the population.”
Broderick said while she and her team are working on the tool to keep people alive and virus free, she hopes people will use the only tools they have right now to stay safe.
“The best thing we can do for each other is to stay at home, stay put and wait for these other medical tools to be developed,” she said.
And what about the question of whether this virus will mutate.
Broderick said so far there is no indication that is happening with SARS CO-V-2.
But if it does, she said the technology Inovio has will be able to target the new form.