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Coronavirus vaccine trial to begin in U.S.

Karen Berger medical writer and reviewer headshot By | March 17, 2020

Every day, coronavirus statistics are increasing at an alarmingly fast rate. States rush to action by shutting down schools, movie theaters, and restaurants—and imposing curfews. There is not currently a vaccine to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the CDC, “the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.” However, while you practice social distancing, online schooling, and working from home, scientists are hard at work on a coronavirus vaccine.

The first coronavirus vaccine trial begins in the U.S.

A coronavirus vaccine trial began on Mar. 16 at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. The trial will study 45 healthy volunteers, ranging in age 18 to 55 years old. Moderna and the National Institutes of Health developed the experimental vaccine, which will be given as two doses (of three different strengths), 28 days apart. NIH is also funding the trial.

During the first phase of testing, investigators will determine the side effects and safety of the vaccine. Larger trials this year will study how well the vaccine works. 

The expected timeline for a vaccine approval is 12 to 18 months, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

Unlike many vaccines, which contain an inactive form of the virus, the COVID-19 vaccine uses genetic engineering—the body’s cells will produce small pieces of the virus that are recognized by the immune system. A strand of messenger RNA will enter patients’ cells and program their bodies to make proteins that look like the receptor on the virus’ surface, triggering the immune system without causing illness. 

Other coronavirus vaccines in research and development

Other companies are rushing to bring a coronavirus vaccine to the market as well. 

  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals will be testing a vaccine in several dozen volunteers at both the University of Pennsylvania and a testing center in Kansas City, Missouri, and then completing a similar study in China and South Korea.
  • Altimmune has synthesized and designed a single-dose, intranasal vaccine, which will begin clinical trials in August.
  • University of Queensland and CSL Limited have developed a vaccine based on MF59, a proprietary adjuvant technology. 
  • CureVac and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has developed an mRNA-based vaccine, which will begin clinical testing in several months.
  • Generex Biotechnology is developing an Ii-Key peptide vaccine, based on their immune system activation technology platform. 
  • GlaxoSmithKline and Clover Biopharmaceuticals are developing S-Trimer, a protein-based coronavirus vaccine. Preclinical studies begin soon. 

Many other vaccines are in development as well, from companies including iBio and Beijing CC-Pharming, ImmunoPrecise Antibodies, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology, LineaRx (Applied DNA Sciences), Takis Biotech, NovaVax, Sanofi, Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding, Vaxart, Vir Biotechnology, and WuXi Biologics.

Coronavirus treatments

There is no official treatment for coronavirus. Patients with mild symptoms can take OTC medications for fever and self-quarantine, while patients with more severe symptoms may be admitted to the hospital for fluids and assistance breathing with oxygen or even a ventilator. 

RELATED: Coronavirus vs. the flu vs. a cold

Some drugs are being studied in trials as possible coronavirus treatments. The antiviral drug Favilavir (favipiravir) is showing promise in clinical trials in China. Meanwhile, other drugmakers are looking at different HIV, Ebola, antimalarial, and immune modulator drugs that could possibly treat coronavirus. Other drugs in development for coronavirus treatment include protease inhibitors, monoclonal antibodies, antivirals, and cell therapy.

While there is not an official treatment or vaccine available yet, it is always wise to follow the mitigation strategy recommendations of the CDC, to help slow the spread of coronavirus. As always, don’t forget to wash your hands and use other protective measures. 

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