The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates Covid-19’s fatality rate to be 3.4% globally, far lower than other recent coronavirus outbreaks, including SARS and MERS. However the Coronavirus appears to be more fatal than flu, which has a fatality rate of around 0.1 percent. Despite being very contagious, most people who get Covid-19 will recover within 1-2 weeks, without hospitalization.
Currently at least 30 companies and academic institutions, biotech startups and big pharma giants including Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are working on vaccines. Scientists have already studied the full genome of the virus and found the proteins that cause the infection.
Vaccines have already been tested on animals. Human trials are about to begin in Seattle.
US biotech firm Moderna shipped the first batch of a vaccine to be used in human testing last week. This is a rapid turnaround time after researchers learned the virus’s genetic sequence in January. Moderna’s shots are to undergo a faster-than-expected study on Seattle-area volunteers who are being recruited. The vaccine study is sponsored by the US government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The vaccine contains the genetic material RNA, which instructs the body’s cells to make a protein from the coronavirus. This protein doesn’t cause infection but is designed to trigger an immune response to the virus. The vaccine isn’t made from the actual virus. Such innovative medical innovations – including ‘rapid response platforms’ are amongst the best bet to develop a vaccine.
This speed at which this experimental vaccine was developed by Moderna represents a breakthrough. Their vaccine was developed in 42 days of the company obtaining genetic information on the coronavirus. Moderna shipped their vaccine to US government scientists immediately.
The possibility exists to develop a vaccine before Christmas, but mass producing such will likely take another 4-6 months.
Already an antiviral medication called “remdesivir” from Gilead Corporation, seems effective in animals. It was used to treat the first American patient in Washington State. Researchers are now testing the drug in clinical trials in the United States, China and other countries.
The speed and response is happening on an unprecedented timescale. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, it took researchers almost 20 months to get a vaccine ready for human trials. By the time of the Zika outbreak in 2015, researchers had ensured the timeline was just six months.
Initial trials of the potential vaccine could begin in April, but the process of testing and approvals would last at least a year. The first Covid-19 vaccine in China is expected to be ready for clinical trials by the end of April.
In China, the National Medical Products Administration has approved the use of Favilavir, an anti-viral drug for treating the virus. The drug has bene effective treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial of 70 patients. The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen city.
Work on vaccines is using newer, and less tested, approaches called “plug and play” vaccines. Because we know the genetic code of the new coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2, we now have the complete blueprint for building that virus.
Scientists are lifting small sections of the coronavirus’s genetic code and putting it into other, completely harmless, viruses.
Other groups are using pieces of raw genetic code (either DNA or RNA) which, once injected into the body, should begin producing proteins which the immune system again can learn to fight.
(Anthony Ginsberg, Co-founder HAN-GINS Healthcare Innovation ETF)