Inovio Pharmaceuticals researchers say that significant progress is being made in developing a coronavirus vaccine. The project of its creation began in January after the Chinese government made the genome sequencing of COVID-19 public.
Philadelphia-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals along with the University of Pennsylvania’s research facility and the Winstar Institute, says that there are reasons to be confident about the results they have obtained so far.
“We immediately started testing the vaccine in the laboratory. And we’re quite confident about the results that we’ve seen,” Dr. Kate Broderick, senior vice president, R&D at Inovio Pharmaceuticals.
Broderick said that human testing is a very important phase of the process and in the circumstances of the pandemic the work has been done in a very short time.
“We treated three people last week. But getting our vaccine into human beings is a huge step. But we did that in 83 days, which certainly in my career is absolutely an unprecedented level of speed.”
One of the difficulties that the research team has faced is the lack of knowledge about the variations in the virus behavior.
“In some patients, it looks like people who had the disease but now recovered have kind of these sort of low antibodies levels, but we don’t know if that’s a consistent result across everybody that’s contracted the virus so far,” she says. “So, we need to learn more about how the virus affects people and how people are affected by that infection before we can see too much about how that impacts vaccine design.”
According to Broderick, much remains to be discovered about these cases of recovered persons
“What we don’t know is that they contract the virus for a second time, which obviously would be very unlucky, but possible. Or is it just that they haven’t fully recovered the first time around? So that’s really what we’re learning as we speak and as we move forward. And that’s what kind of makes treating this virus very difficult because there’s still so much we don’t understand about it.”
Approximately 40 people will be tested during the initial phase at locations in Kansas City and the University of Pennsylvania. Final results from the tests are expected by the summer.
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Phase one is supposed to be normal, healthy people. And in this case, they have not, as far as we know, they have not been infected with COVID-19,” Dr. David Weiner, of the Wistar Institute. “The first study is really just safety and tolerability in relatively low-risk people just to make sure the vaccine by itself, how well it’s tolerated by people.”
This part of the study would be followed by phase two, in which the at-risk population is tested.
“Phase two is really where you start to test out larger numbers and efficacy. And Inovio has already produced enough dosing for that several thousand doses in there because that process is so robust to get through that study as well. So, that’s clearly on their radar.”
Weiner, said that an emergency authorization could be enacted in order to assure a fast distribution of the elaborated vaccine.