No time for an original post today, but want to share this encouraging article from my daily New York Times email briefing:
A running start for a vaccine at Oxford
Here’s promising news in the worldwide race to develop a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus. The Jenner Institute at Oxford University has one that seems to work in lab animals and is ready to test its effectiveness in humans, if regulators approve.
The institute had a big head start, our correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick reports. Its scientists had an approach that they already knew was safe: They had proved it in trials last year for a vaccine to fight MERS, a respiratory disease caused by a closely related virus.
That has enabled the institute to skip ahead and schedule tests of its new Covid-19 vaccine on more than 6,000 people by the end of May, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana got very good results when they tried out the Oxford vaccine last month on six rhesus macaque monkeys. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the coronavirus. After more than four weeks, all six were still healthy.
“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.
Immunity in monkeys doesn’t guarantee that a vaccine will protect people, but it’s an encouraging sign. If the May trials go well and regulators grant emergency approval, the Oxford scientists say they could have a few million doses of their vaccine available by September — months ahead of other vaccine projects.
“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” said Emilio Emini of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is helping to finance a number of competing efforts.
All in the genes: The Jenner Institute isn’t following the classic approach of using a weakened version of the disease pathogen. Instead, its approach starts with another familiar virus, neutralizes it and then genetically modifies it so that it will prompt the body to produce the right antibodies for Covid-19.
Researchers originally cooked up the technology in a quest to develop a vaccine for malaria, which is caused by a parasite. No luck there yet. But when the idea was borrowed to go after MERS, it worked well.