On Monday (10 February), Professor Wang Linfa, director for the programme in emerging infectious disease at the Duke-NUS Medical School, said that Singapore is working “very closely” with an international body to develop a new vaccine to fight the deadly coronavirus that has claimed more than 1,000 lives so far.
It is said that the city-state is working alongside the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public-private coalition that aims to create vaccines to put an end to future epidemics.
Last week, CEPI called for proposals to quickly develop and manufacture vaccine that can help to cure the novel coronavirus.
By end of this week, front runners will be picked and be given a minimum of 16 weeks to come up with the vaccine, based on CEPI’s initiative. Following that, the body will then decide if the vaccine is ready to move for a Phase 1 clinical trial.
“We are trying to convince them to do a Phase 1 clinical trial in Singapore,” Professor Wang said while speaking at a media conference conducted at A*Star for scientists and researchers to discuss about their work on the novel coronavirus.
Despite having a push to develop the vaccine as soon as possible, but an expert said that it could take a bit more time. Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of Infectious Diseases at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School noted that it will be “probably at least a year” before a commercially ready vaccine will be out in the market.
“That’s because the vaccine needs to be safe, it needs to be proven to be effective. Even if this outbreak is contained, which we all hope it will be, it will still be nice to have a vaccine, because at this point we don’t know if it will come back again,” he added.
Adding to the point, Prof Wang said that in case the virus remains the way it is – with little change among the cases seen across different countries, there are chances that the vaccine might be able to provide long-term protection.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health confirmed two more cases of the deadly novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of infected cases in Singapore to 45.
Out of the 45, 23 cases are resulted from local transmission.
In fact, the number of confirmed cases in Singapore has exceed that of Thailand, making Singapore the second most infected country in the world after Japan, outside of China.
Treated with HIV drugs
Separately, Associate Professor David Lye, director at the Infectious Disease Research and Training Office at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) was quoted in a report by Channel News Asia stating that a number of patients in Singapore have been given a drug usually used to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
He explained then when patients are given HIV medication, doctors will see if their oxygen level improves, if their fever reduces, and if their swabs return back negative for the coronavirus.
“With the small number of patients and with people reporting their use in other countries in small numbers without detailed data, it’s very hard to say whether they work or not. Our experience is that in some patients, we see a very rapid response,” he said.
He added, “But we also see people who continue to worsen and require assistance to breathe through a machine.”
Assoc Prf Lye, who is part of the World Health Organization’s protocol writing committee, is involved in designing a study to test the effectiveness of current medication against the virus.
“The experts are working very hard to develop protocol, we are discussing how to design the study, what sort of patients do we include? If they are patients without symptoms, but they are positive, do you give them potentially drugs with side effects?” he noted.
If that’s not all, he also pointed out that the kind of drugs to be used is also being debated.
He added that a drug tested for Ebola had “very good activity” for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and the novel coronavirus on animals, but it has not been used to treat the novel coronavirus in humans.
He went on to stress the importance of international studies.
“We need to be part of an international collaboration because there’s nothing worse than having a very small study and giving the wrong results,” he opined.
He continued, “We cannot be like in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) time when we just used trial and error. We hope to bring to our Singapore patients a proper randomised controlled trial very very soon.”