The science is paying off. Novavax, a Maryland-based company working on this type of vaccine, recently reported the results of its Phase 1 trial. The levels of antibodies generated were stunning, about four times higher than those in individuals who are recovering from a COVID-19 infection.
Scientists are also using different strains of another virus, adenovirus, as a vector or a missile to deliver genes that code for these same spike proteins and that also provoke an immune response. The vector has been engineered in the lab to be replication-defective; that is, the vector is able to deliver the spike gene into humans but once its done its job, the vector cannot replicate any further. At least three groups are testing these vectors. A University of Oxford group, in partnership with AstraZeneca, has employed an adenovirus from chimpanzees and has already entered Phase 3 trials in humans. The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center group, in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceutica, is using Ad26, a human adenovirus, and the Chinese-based CanSino Biologics has begun Phase 3 trials with yet another human adenovirus, Ad5.
These examples are not just beautiful science (although they are beautiful science). By harnessing the increased power of the biological sciences, researchers are developing entirely new ways of rapidly developing vaccines.
My optimism doesn’t stop with these early results, although they are key. I’m also encouraged because at least five very different approaches (I’ve walked through only three above) are being explored to make a vaccine. As we say in Canada, if you want to win, you have to take many shots on goal.