Covid-19, the new respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, is spreading internationally. However, companies and research institutes are developing vaccinations against it. There are other ways companies can help against the pandemic.
The coronavirus infectious disease that has been spreading for a few months has been given the name Covid-19 (WHO, February 11, 2020). The virus that causes it was given the name SARS-CoV-2 (after it was initially called 2019-nCoV).
At least 40 vaccine projects have started against this infectious disease: The World Health Organization currently has 35. In addition, there is a project by the German company BioNTech , two projects of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), which has not yet been recorded by the WHO , as well as the project one by the Swedish Karolinska Institute-led consortium “Opencorona” (which also includes the University of Gießen), a project of the IsraeliBiological Research Institutes .
Several of these vaccine projects are funded by CEPI , the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations: projects by the German company CureVac , the US company Inovio (together with the Wistar Institute and Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology), Moderna (with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and Novavax, and projects from the Australian University of Queensland (with the company Dynavax , which contributes an adjuvant (1) ) and the British University of Oxford .
In conjunction with CEPI, GSK also offers to incorporate its own vaccine adjuvant technology into projects for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. For example, the Chinese vaccine developer Clover Biopharmaceuticals and GSK collaborated to develop a vaccine that contains selected, genetically engineered Covid-19 proteins and one of the GSK adjuvants.
CEPI is a product development partnership that is financed by Norway, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
The trial of the Moderna vaccine with volunteers begins on March 16, 2020. For the Inovio vaccineFirst clinical trials with volunteers are announced for April 2020. Novavax plans to begin volunteer studies for “late spring” and CureVac for “early summer”. The University of Queensland project has achieved animal testing.
Other projects are carried out independently of CEPI. The Mainz-based company BioNTech is developing a vaccine that it plans to test with volunteers in Europe, the USA and China from the end of April. The company works with the Chinese company Fosun Pharma .
Also Janssen (in Johnson & Johnson)announced that it would develop a vaccine using technology that was already used for an Ebola vaccine that is currently in the EU approval process. It works with the state organization Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) . Sanofi Pasteur , the vaccine division of Sanofi,
also cooperates with BARDA . The aim is to develop a Covid-19 vaccine using the company’s own technology platform for recombinant DNA. The project builds on an earlier one that targeted a SARS vaccine. The companies Tonix Pharmaceuticals , Altimmune , Greffex , Vaxart
, GeoVax (with BravoVax in China) and LineaRx with Takis Biotech , all based in the USA, have also reported on the development of their own vaccines. Altimmun’s vaccine is said to be used nasally, like a company’s previously developed flu vaccine. Tonix is modifying a Horsepox virus for its TNX-1800 vaccine. Vaxart is planning a vaccine that will be swallowed as a tablet and will not be injected.
In Denmark, ExpreS 2 ion is developing a vaccine with partners.
The Israeli company Vaxil has also reported that it has developed its own vaccine.
The Indian company Zydus Cadilaand Serum Institute (in cooperation with the US company Codagenix) are also working on vaccines. According to media reports, the vaccine from Serum Institute and Codagenix is already being tested on animals.
In China, Cansino Biologics is working on a vaccine.
Active research institutions include VIDO-InterVac (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Center) at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. A vaccine is also being developed
at the Cambridge Infectious Diseases Research Center at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The University of Hong Konghas announced that it has already completed a vaccine candidate for further testing. However, it would still be months before he had gone through all animal and human studies. This vaccine candidate is derived from a flu vaccine that is given as a nasal spray.
In the United States, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) is working with the Walter Reed Army Institute on a vaccine.
The German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) works in Germanywith partners in Munich, Marburg and Hamburg on two vaccines. In one of them, researchers are modifying a vaccine against the MERS virus (see below) that is currently being tested in clinical trials. In the other, the measles vaccine virus serves as the basis.
Israel’s Institute for Biological Research and the Israeli Ministry of Health were also commissioned to develop a vaccine. The Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL) is also located in Israel . The institute is developing a Covid-19 vaccine based on a previously developed vaccine against a coronavirus that affects poultry.
Coronavirus: It is the generic term for a family of viruses that affect humans or animals. The pathogens of SARS in 2002/2003, MERS and numerous forms of cold are also included.
SARS-CoV-2: This pathogen, which is currently spreading worldwide, was hitherto unknown and only received its name in February 2020. That is why it has been and is often referred to in the reporting as a “new type of corona virus”. The abbreviation stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus-2.
Covid-19:Fortunately, not everyone who gets infected with SARS-CoV-2 falls ill. Those who show symptoms after being infected with the new pathogen suffer from respiratory disease Covid-19. The name is derived from “Coronavirus Disease” and the year of first occurrence, 2019.
Several companies are ready to work together to develop the Covid-19 vaccines. This is shown not only by the example of GSK with its adjuvants, but also by the cooperation agreement between Moderna, Janssen and Sanofi, which was concluded on March 2nd at a meeting with the US government.
Types of vaccines
Thanks to new technologies, the research teams hope that within months they will have developed vaccines to such an extent that they can be tested on animals and later also on humans. Studies with volunteers have already been announced for several vaccines (see above).
The companies and research institutes rely on very different types of vaccines:
Live vaccines with vector viruses: Well-known, harmless viruses serve as a starting point for several projects, for example the “Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara” (MVA), the adenovirus serotype 26 or the virus from measles vaccine. Such so-called vector viruses can multiply in humans without causing a disease. You also know how to multiply them in large quantities. Now they “disguise” researchers with genetic engineering as SARS-CoV-2 (specifically: they exchange one or more of their surface proteins with SARS-CoV-2 proteins) so that they can pretend that the immune system is infected with Covid-19. Those who are vaccinated with it build up immune protection that can also ward off a real infection – so the plan. Building on a vector virus are also the first approved Ebola vaccine, another Ebola vaccine (pending approval) and other experimental vaccines have been developed. This strategy is now used, for example, in the SARS-CoV-2 projects by Janssen, DZIF and the University of Oxford.
Vaccine with viral proteins : Several projects targeting vaccines with viral proteins (such as those from Novavax, Greffex and the University of Queensland) are based on long-established technology: a large number of approved vaccines are composed in this way; for example those against tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B or flu. With other vaccines, however, it may be easier to quickly produce large quantities of vaccine units. However, this will only become apparent when the time comes.
Gene-based vaccines : The vaccines from CureVac, BioNTech, Moderna, Inovio, Arcturus and LineaRx / Takis contain selected genes of the virus in the form of mRNA or DNA. After the injection, these are supposed to cause the formation of (harmless) virus proteins in the body, which in turn, like a conventional vaccine, cause the build-up of immune protection. Such RNA- and DNA-based vaccines have the advantage that many injection doses can be produced very quickly. However, no vaccine of this kind has yet been launched on the market.
Vaccines against other coronaviruses
Even if SARS-CoV-2 has not previously appeared, vaccine developers already have experience with other pathogens from the corona virus family. The SARS virus, which occurred from late 2002 to summer 2003, was one of the corona viruses. At the time, 22 projects were launched, which – however, because the virus disappeared – could not be completed. However, some projects delivered good interim results.
The corona virus also includes the MERS virus, which spread from camels to humans in 2012 and since then has repeatedly caused serious respiratory infections (called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”). For several years now, at least four companies and several research groups have been working on vaccines against the virus; and some of them are supported by CEPI. The German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is developing one of these vaccines with several partners, including the company IDT Biologica .
(1) Adjuvants are “potentiators” for vaccines which, among other things, can make it possible for significantly less virus protein per vaccine injection to be sufficient for one immunization or that more injection doses can be produced with a given amount of virus protein produced.