Covid-19 crisis: Race to develop vaccine gets a booster as field widens

Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine has entered the final stage of clinical trials.
The race to develop a vaccine for SARS-Cov-2 (novel coronavirus) just got hotter as more competitors received regulatory approval from the Drugs Controller General of India’s (DCGI’s) Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) to conduct phase-II clinical human trials.

Recently, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, a vaccine candidate that it developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), was approved for human trials, making it the first indigenously developed vaccine to get the nod. To develop Covaxin, NIV Pune isolated the virus strain and transferred it to Bharat Biotech. And the vaccine has shown positive results in pre-clinical animal trials. 

On Thursday, CDSCO also approved Zydus Cadila’s plasmid DNA vaccine candidate ZyCoV-D, developed at its Vaccine Technology Centre in Ahmedabad. With the ICMR setting August 15 as the deadline to launch a Covid-19 vaccine, Zydus Cadila intends to ramp up production capacities of ZyCoV-D to cater to Indian and global demand.

The firm said the vaccine elicited a strong immune response in mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. “The antibodies produced by the vaccine were able to completely neutralise the wild type virus… indicating the protective potential of the vaccine candidate,” Cadila Healthcare said on Friday.
Meanwhile, the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine has entered the final stage of clinical trials. Scientists have initiated clinical trials in South Africa, while the Indian partner, Serum Institute of India (SII), is hopeful it will be made available by year-end.

Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand have started clinical trials in South Africa with the team set to test the ‘Ox1Cov-19’ or ‘Oxford Vaccine’. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII, has said the firm will need to conduct phase-III clinical trials before launching the vaccine. 

Apart from partnering with AstraZeneca to supply a billion doses of Oxford’s potential vaccine to low and middle-income countries, SII is working on a recombinant BCG vaccine as an immunity booster against respiratory viruses. Trials for this are on in India, and the first batch might go into production by August-September.

Indian Immunologicals (IIL) is also conducting preclinical trials on small animals and non-human primates. However, according to the company’s Managing Director Anand Kumar, these trials could go on till December. The company is working on a live-attenuated weakened placid vaccine candidate that almost resembles the Covid-19 virus, but does not have the capacity to multiply.

However, if other developers taste success before IIL, the firm is open to collaborating with them to make the vaccine. “Anyone who comes up with the vaccine but is short of capacity, we are ready to collaborate for manufacturing. Given the population, there is no single vaccine manufacturer that has all the capacity. We are talking to other vaccine makers, but the technology has to be compatible with our manufacturing,” Kumar told Business Standard.

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