The Race between the Vaccine and the Vacation

Prof. Arunaditya Sahay (View Full Profile)
Dean (Research)
Professor of Strategic Management, BIMTECH

One of my Ph.D. students, is right now in Oxford, UK. He is stuck there with the advent of Corona virus as all passenger flights had been cancelled since March 25 after the lockdown announcement by our Prime Minister, who has been rated the best Corona handling leader of the world by various agencies including Gallup.

The UK student (who does not want to be named) is in constant touch with the High Commission for being brought back to India but has to wait till lockdown is lifted or the summer vacation starts in June, whichever is earlier.

During our WhatsApp talk, he exchanged with me the information about the developments of vaccine for Covid19 in Oxford University. We wondered whether vaccine will come first or vacation in the University though the work on vaccine development is going on at a break neck speed. June will come with the normal rotation of the earth but successful vaccination – it depends!

Covid19 has spread to almost 3 million people worldwide while 881,845 persons have died. Indian situation is better with 27,557 infection and 881 death though new cases are coming unabated every day. The world, urgently, needs a vaccination against Covid19.

Pursuing the objective of getting a vaccine, WHO has created a coordination group of experts consisting of scientists, physicians, funders and manufacturers, who have come together to help speed the availability of a successful vaccine.  The group made a call to everyone to follow recommendations to prevent the transmission of the Covid19 virus and protect the health of individuals.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has awarded $20 million to the accelerators of three institutions in the US and UK to fund clinical trials aiming to study the effectiveness of proposed drugs in combating coronavirus. University of Washington, University of Oxford and La Jolla Institute of immunology are the recipients of the fund.

Additionally, The Chan Zuckerberg initiative committed $25 Million and the UK government committed £40 Million recently. The additional funds are allotted to accelerators, which in turn, are supposed to make grant for the study of proposed drug.

The downstream study will also cover the investigation on biological compounds against Covid19. However, the present allocation of funds may not be sufficient; more funding may be needed to take promising therapies to next level and finally to manufacturing which has to be followed by scaling up of the production.

PM Modi, in his own way, has been asking young Indian scientists to come up with low cost vaccine. Meanwhile, in Delhi, plasma treatment of Covid19 patients is showing encouraging results.

University of Washington is conducting a multi-site clinical trial. These trials are being conducted in western Washington and New York City area. In the worst affected New York, the clinical trial is being pursued in collaboration with the School of Medicine, New York University. They are investigating whether hydroxychloroquine is effective and whether it can prevent Covid19 in people who are already infected. The trial that they have planned needs to have 2000 volunteers. These volunteers are selected from asymptomatic men and women who had contact with persons who had confirmed or pending Covid19 diagnosis.

While testing, the selected sample are randomly given hydrochloroquine over a period of two weeks. The process is to and test daily for revealing new Covid19 infection. Sandoz, a division of Novartis, has donated hydroxychloroquine, imported from India, to conduct the study.  

Though there are 71 pre-clinical and 5 clinical stage drug candidates worldwide, it is said that United Kingdom and within UK, Oxford University is leading the pack.

Oxford University has already started human testing with a Covid-19 vaccine. The Oxford team – led by Professor Sarah Gilbert – is testing ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. This is a candidate based on a chimpanzee adenovirus which was modified to include the spike or ‘S’ protein which is on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. This is the virus that causes Covid-19.

The first human test was done on Elisa Granato, a microbiologist of Oxford University, who was the first volunteer in an initial group of 800. She took the test on her 32nd birthday when she said, “I’m a scientist, so I wanted to try to support the scientific process wherever I can.” The second volunteer was Edward O’Neill, a cancer researcher, also of the microbiology department of the University. The British government has funded 22 million pounds to a second vaccine project at Imperial College, London. This funding is to support phase 2 trials as well as to prepare for a larger phase 3 study.

While vaccine development is going worldwide, various manufacturing companies, especially those in India, are gearing up for production of the ‘would be’ successful vaccine. Serum Institute of India (SII) based in Pune, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, seem to be leading the race for Covid19 vaccine production in India. They have entered into a collaboration for mass production of the vaccine being developed by Oxford  University which is backed by the UK government. Sarah Gilbert, the team leader at Oxford University, hopes to get at least a million doses made by September, if human clinical trials of the same are successful.

SII is one of the seven global institutions with whom Oxford University has partnered with for production of the vaccine. Adar Poonawalla, the Chief Executive Officer of SII, in this regard, has said “SII will be manufacturing the vaccine in anticipation of clinical trials succeeding by September/October in the UK… Following that, SII has undertaken the decision to initiate the manufacture at their own risk. The decision has been solely taken to have a jump-start on manufacturing, to have enough doses available, if the clinical trials work.” As creating a new facility for Covid19 vaccine will take around two to three years, the vaccines will be manufactured at the firm’s Pune facility itself.

Even the regulatory authorities are working with SII to make sure that the procedure set is functioning smoothly. Poonawalla is already in touch with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) for the establishment of manufacturing the vaccine.

For, public good, SII will not patent Covid19 vaccine developed in collaboration with Oxford University, thus, they will prevent the vaccine from being costly. SII plans to make the vaccine available for all to produce and sell, not only in India but across the world.

I wish the vaccine wins the race; it beats the time for ensuing summer vacation in UK and my Ph.D. student comes back to India duly vaccinated – safe and sound – having neither fear of contracting Covid19 nor that of spreading the virus to his family, friends and all with whom he comes in contact during his journey back to the motherland.

#Covid19  #Coronavirus  #Hydroxychloroquinevaccine

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