Race for vaccine against coronavirus heats up in India; 6 firms in the fray

As news flows in from Beijing that a Chinese research firm has become the first organisation to enter phase II of clinical trials in the global race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, India, too, is gearing up to develop its indigenous variant soon. With vaccines of some firms already in the animal trial phase, developers say that if all goes well, India can have a vaccine by next year, ahead of the earlier timelines.

As of now, six Indian companies are in the race to make a vaccine.

Speaking to Business Standard, Gagandeep Kang, the vice-chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said that Cadila Healthcare (Zydus Cadila), Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals, Mynvax and Biological E are working to develop vaccines for the novel coronavirus.

“There is a chance of hope of a vaccine next year, but it is always a question of speed, science, safety, efficacy, and luck,” Kang, who is also the executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, said.

Of the players in the fray, Serum Institute has indicated that it may be possible to have a viable Covid-19 vaccine only by the second quarter of 2022. It had earlier given a timeline of the end 2022 but revised it later. It is working on two vaccine candidates which are now in the animal trial phase.

So are Zydus Cadila’s vaccine candidates, one of the early movers in this area in India. It has two candidates under development – a DNA vaccine and another a live weakened recombinant measles vaccine against Covid-19.

Its DNA vaccine will work against the viral membrane protein responsible for the cell entry of Covid-19 virus. In the second approach, which is being developed by its European research arm Etna Biotech, is working with a live attenuated (weakened) recombinant measles vaccine that will induce long term neutralising antibodies that will protect against infection.

Pankaj Patel, chairman of Zydus Cadila, said that the company has taken multiple approaches to come out with a vaccine. “If the animal trials go well, then we can expect a vaccine by the end of 2021. However, it depends on the results that the animal trials show. The government, on its part, is moving very fast in this case and approvals, etc are not a challenge,” he explained.

Zydus was also the first Indian company to prepare a vaccine for swine flu in 2010.

Experts feel that while there is a current race to make the vaccine, once a drug to treat this disease comes up, the demand for the vaccine may fall. E. Sreekumar, chief scientific officer at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) said that it would take at least a year to see if a patient administered the vaccine does not catch the infection. “Efficacy testing of vaccines take time. For example, to check whether antibodies are getting produced in a patient in sufficient numbers will take around six months,” he added.

Indian players, however, are working round the clock to ensure they have a candidate fast. “We do not have vaccines against several deadly diseases, and even coronaviruses. But, with coronaviruses re-emerging every few years, there is expected to be a steady demand for these vaccines,” said a drug firm official.

Such is the scramble for the vaccine, Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer in terms of the number of doses has decided to test if a tuberculosis vaccine works to boost immunity against the too. The Pune-based institute has tied up with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology and Vaccine Projekt Management that has a TB vaccine VPM10002 for trials. If the study yields positive results, the vaccine could be available in the market by early 2021.

Similarly, Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech’s vaccine candidate is expected to be in human trials by the fall of 2020.

Patel said that developing an indigenous vaccine is a matter of security. In the global scene, some of the leading firms have indicated that they can come up with a vaccine by 2021. For example, Johnson and Johnson (J&J) that recently unveiled a lead Covid-19 vaccine candidate has said that the company plans to have clinical trials by September and win an emergency use by early next year. It aims to produce more than one billion doses by next year. Inovio, Sanofi, Moderna too are in advancing their Covid-19 candidates.

(Above content has been sourced from a news feed)

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