As COVID-19’s death toll surpassed 250,000 globally, states and pharmaceuticals are exhausting all possible avenues in the fierce race of developing an effective vaccine against the coronavirus, which could be our best route back to normal life. Currently, over 100 vaccine candidates are in the development pipeline worldwide which features a diverse range of novel technology platforms, including DNA and RNA, virus-like particle, peptide, viral vector, recombinant protein and conventional approaches of live attenuated and inactivated viruses. Governments are expediting the trial timeline for new vaccines, with scientists hoping that effective vaccines will be on the horizon within 12 to 18 months. This still represents an unprecedented challenge given that the fastest record of developing an entirely new vaccine took 4 years and the typical success rate of below 10%. China, Germany, US and UK are among countries showing promising results in vaccine development. International cooperation and alliance could be the ultimate key to accomplishing this extraordinary mission of developing COVID-19 vaccines at pandemic speed.
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The virologists in Fudan University promptly analyzed the complete viral genome of the SARS-CoV-2 in just a few weeks after the earliest cluster of cases reported in December 2019. The full-length genomic sequence is available as open-access so that the whole world access to it promptly. This enables research on vaccine development around the world can be done in a more accurate, effective and faster way. As of 20 March 2020, 40 vaccine candidates were in development stage, among which ≥ 2 of them have entered clinical trial phase.
Challenges: The length of clinical trials (phase I-III) are typically 12-18 weeks. It will probably take another 12 to 18 months to mass produce the vaccine for the general public. If successful, our chance of victory against the COVID-19 would be much higher. However, clinical trials are not a guaranteed solution to a disease. For example, although various stages of clinical trial on HIV vaccine have been carried out, none of them have been proven effective. Furthermore, all viruses evolve over time and the success of vaccination strategies depend much on their rate of mutation. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a new type of coronavirus with unknown mutation rate, the result of vaccination strategy is still full of uncertainty.
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2. Moderna doses first patient with mRNA-1273 in coronavirus vaccine trial. Available at: https://www.pharmaceutical-business-review.com/news/moderna-mrna-1273-coronavirus-trial/. Accessed on 2 Apr 2020.
3. China approves first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine to enter clinical trials. Available at: https://www.bioworld.com/articles/433791-china-approves-first-homegrown-covid-19-vaccine-to-enter-clinical-trials. Accessed on 2 Apr 2020.