COVID-19 vaccine update: China prepares three candidates, Russia begins its clinical trial, Europe speeds up vaccine development

Researchers are conducting clinical trials amid the uncertain end of the pandemic

Researchers across the globe are racing to produce the most effective vaccines for COVID-19 following a growing fear of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19—which has infected over eight million and claimed more than 450,000 globally as of Friday (19 Jun)—was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of December last year.

Those suffering from the virus exhibit symptoms similar to the regular flu such as cough, fever, and sore throat in the initial stages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) hoped hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines would be available at the end of this year and two billion doses by the end of 2021, said a chief scientist at the Geneva-based organization, Soumya Swaminathan.

“If we’re very lucky, there will be one or two successful candidates before the end of this year,” said the paediatrician in a recent virtual conference, adding that three groups of people are prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

They are:

  • Frontline workers;
  • People most prone to COVID-19 infection such as the elderly, and people with underlying conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes; and
  • People living in urban slums and nursing homes.

Three out of five vaccine candidates developed by China have reportedly produced the COVID-19 antibody

The vaccine candidate produced by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products–affiliated with the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) has succeeded in inducing neutralizing antibody in the first and second clinical trials, involving 1,120 volunteers.

Two other vaccine candidates are those from the Beijing Institute Biotechnologies and Sinovac. Vaccines produced by the former in partnership with the CanSino Biological–called Ad5-nCoV-has triggered a neutralizing antibody in numerous patients, as published in the Lancet.

SinoVac Biotech announced its CoronaVac vaccine candidate had shown positive immunogenicity and safety profiles in the Phase 1/2 clinical trials.

“Our Phase 1/2 study shows CoronaVac is safe and can induce an immune response. Concluding our Phase 1/2 study clinical studies with these encouraging results is another significant milestone we have achieved in the fight against COVID-19,” said Weidong Yin, Chairman, President and CEO of Sinovac.

Sinovac is planning to conduct CoronaVac Phase III clinical trial with Brazil’s Instituto Butantan, aimed at achieving advantageous cooperation as the vaccine can help to curb the pandemic in the Latin American nation, which has recorded 983,000 COVID-19 cases, with 47,869 deaths and 504,000 cases in recovery as of Friday (19 Jun).

Russia started its clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Russia’s the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology started its clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate on Wednesday (17 Jun), involving two groups comprising of 38 volunteers each, news agency TASS reported.

After being vaccinated, the participants will go into quarantine for 28 days under the close supervision of doctors. The chosen volunteers have undergone several medical screenings ahead of the trial, including check-ups for HIV, hepatitises, and other severe illnesses.

“After signing the informed consent and insurance paperwork, the trial participant undergoes a screening. This involves blood and urine tests, a check-up for chronic illnesses, HIV, hepatitises, coronavirus. Only after compliance with the trial inclusion criteria is confirmed are the volunteers injected with the vaccine. The first volunteers will be vaccinated as early as June 18-19,” the press service wrote.

The Gamaleya institute made the news when its director and researchers admitted they had tried the vaccine before conducting human trials on other subjects.

“Everyone is alive and well and cheerful,” the institute’s director Prof Alexander Gintsburg told Interfax news agency, adding that none of the participants have shown any side effects from the vaccine.

European Union will speed up the development of the COVID-19 vaccine

The European Union (EU) is accelerating the development of the COVID-19 vaccine through advance purchase deal with several leading pharmaceutical companies.

The advance purchase would use the bloc’s emergency budget of US$ 3.02 billion (equal to S$ 4.21), the statement read.

Several sources close to the bloc revealed the European Commission (EC) has been negotiating with the U.S-based Johnson&Johnson (J&J) for the purchase of the vaccine, Reuters reported.

Both EU and J&J have yet to release any statement regarding the meeting.

EU also called on the global vaccine summit to be held on 27 June, adding that the bloc and its partners would order vaccines for middle and low-income countries in the future.

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