How far is India in launching the COVID-19 or Corona vaccine? The global race is on!!

COVID-19 or more commonly, new Corona virus has infected more than 2.6 million people in the world and has taken 1,84,248 lives already. Corona is a new highly infectious viral disease which spread fast. Till date, there is no cure for this disease, and the whole world is just trying to control the outbreak by social distancing and complete lock-down. In past, humans have faced the wreath and havoc caused by diseases. Thankfully, vaccines have made those diseases preventable now. Vaccines are by far the most important invention in the history of mankind and the future too will be governed by new vaccines. The global race is on to find an effective vaccine to combat an unknown enemy, COVID-19 or new Corona virus.

India’s take on the COVID-19 or Corona vaccine hunt

Scientists around the entire world are working amidst lock-down to invent the vaccine against COVID-19. Diligent Indian scientists too are working day and night to launch a vaccine to fight Corona crisis. Six Indian companies, Zydus Cadila, Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals, and Mynvax are currently researching to invent an effective corona virus vaccine. Despite all the efforts, an effective vaccine for COVID-19 or novel Corona virus is unlikely to be ready for mass vaccination before 2021.

Which companies got the funding to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 or Corona virus?

Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has approved funding for Cadila Healthcare, Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute for developing the vaccine against COVID -19.

A research consortium funded by National Biopharma Mission since 2017 will be employed to fast track and support the development of vaccines by the selected companies.

Cadila Healthcare Ltd

Cadila Healthcare Ltd is developing a DNA Vaccine against novel corona virus SARS-CoV-2 and Bharat Biotech International Ltd is exploring the inactivated rabies vector platform for developing the vaccine.

Serum Institute of India

Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) is trying to roll out human clinical trials for new vaccine candidate against novel corona virus within the next 6 months and is expected to be ready with the vaccine by early 2022. SII has already made its strong image in the global arena by producing and selling the highest (more than 1.5 billion-doses) no. of various vaccine doses worldwide. If it succeeds in developing a vaccine against COVID-19 too, it will be another feather in its cap. The vaccine is being developed in collaboration with American biotechnology firm Codagenix. Vaccine candidate has already advanced to the pre-clinical phase involving testing on animals. The strain of the virus being used for vaccine production is identical to the original virus and will generate a strong immune response in the vaccinated person.

This should be the fastest project in the Indian vaccine industry with a sole mission to save maximum lives. The estimated cost of the project is around 300 crores for which funding will be raised from global leaders.

COVID-19 or Corona  vaccine is a long way….

Vaccine development is a cumbersome process with many phases of testing and various hurdles in the process. Vaccines must be first tested on animals in a lab setting. When a tested vaccine is proven safe in animals, then only vaccine trials are progressed to humans and that too in phases. Phase one trials involve only a few participants to test whether the vaccine is safe for human administration. Phase 2 trials involve several hundred people and at this step, the efficacy of the tested vaccine is evaluated. The final phase involves thousands of people to further test the efficacy of the vaccine over a set duration of time and this phase can last for several months in a row. Some of the vaccine candidates have reached phase 1 of the clinical trial. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three vaccine candidates are in the clinical testing phase, meaning they can be tested on humans, while nearly 70 are in the preclinical phase — either in lab testing or animal studies.

Generally, companies take about 10 years to launch an effective, safe and universal vaccine in the market. However, pharma companies are racing to launch the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as soon as possible to save lives and may complete the tedious task in a year.

Challenges we might face even after COVID-19 or Corona vaccines are ready for use

The vaccine may not be effective in all populations and may not provide immunity to all strains of the novel coronavirus. The conventional nature of the virus is to keep mutating itself to adapt to the change in environment and that might boggle the scientists in case of Corona as well.

Which COVID-19 or Corona vaccine  is ready to roll out now in India?

The specific vaccine against COVID-19 or Corona virus is still a long way to go. Meanwhile, immediate protection of high-risk group is planned to be done by using the recombinant BCG vaccine for testing in Phase III clinical trials.

Recombinant BCG vaccine will be the first vaccine candidate to enter human trials within the next two weeks. The rationale behind using the BCG vaccine for preventing COVID-19 infection is a yet to be published study by New York Institute of Technology which claims that reduced mortality is seen in nations following BCG routine vaccination. BCG vaccination is a part of Routine Immunization Program in India and it is mandatory to give the vaccine to children at birth or soon after the birth. Disease burden of Tuberculosistuberculosis is quite high in India. BCG vaccine is the live weakened form of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of Tuberculosis in cattle. Thus, it induces an immune response against tuberculosis in humans. BCG vaccine is a safe bet as it is being given to newborns in India since decades. It’s administration in adults to mellow down Coronavirus sickness should not be a problem.

Global race on COVID-19 or Corona vaccine hunt

Numerous types of vaccine candidates are being explored worldwide. Scientists are leaving no stone unturned in trying to find the solution to this global nightmare. Various kinds of vaccines are being evaluated like nucleic acid (DNA and RNA), virus-like particle, live weakened virus, and inactivated virus. The most promising candidates which have recently moved to the clinical development are mRNA-1273 from US-based biotechnology company Moderna, Ad5-nCoV from Chinese bio-pharma company CanSino Biologicals, and INO-4800 from American pharmaceuticals company Inovio.

Pioneers in Conducting COVID-19 or Corona vaccine clinical trials

In Britain, clinical trials of a promising vaccine have begun on 23rd April on volunteers at the University of Oxford. The first dose of a potential vaccine is based on a virus found in chimpanzees. The Oxford vaccine trial is progressed by University’s Jenner Institute. It will involve a total of 510 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 in the first phase. There are 80% chances of success in trials according to Professor Sarah Gilbert. Optimistic estimated date to roll out a million doses of this potential vaccine may fall in September.

Clinical trials of another potential vaccine by German firm Biontech and US giant Pfizer have been approved and may begin by the end of April 2020. It will be tested on the 200 healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 55 years. The second phase could see the administration of the vaccine to volunteers who belonged to high-risk groups.

Apart from the UK and Germany, three other clinical trials on humans have been approved worldwide since mid-March. Chinese and US pharma companies are among the first to get approval for trials. The military-backed Academy of Military Medical Sciences and Hong Kong-listed biotech firm CanSino Bio got the approval for trials in Beijing on March 16th. US pharma giant Moderna along with the US National Institutes of Health also started human testing during mid of March. The first phase of trials also started in another US lab, San Diego-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals on April 6.

Globally, the race is on to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 or Corona virus. A vaccine is the only hope to save mankind from this drastic virus. Hopefully, we will soon have a full proof vaccine to save us getting sick. Till then, we will have to follow the government guidelines and stay safe.