China successfully conducts first COVID-19 vaccine trial (on monkeys)
China has made a significant breakthrough in the race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) disease. The country has announced that one of its vaccine candidates has proven effective and safe on monkeys and a few other animals in, what has been described as, the world's first animal trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. Here's all you need to know about it.
Developed by Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech, the vaccine in question, officially dubbed PiCoVacc, was tested on mice, rats, and non-human primates which were infected with 10 different strains of the novel coronavirus. The doses, according to the results published in the journal Science, were able to induce antibodies capable of neutralizing all the strains, giving the animals full immunity against COVID-19 infection.
According to the study results, PiCoVacc gave mice and rats the ability to withstand COVID-19 infection even three weeks after being vaccinated. Similarly, eight rhesus macaques, which were given two different doses and later injected the coronavirus, were also able to fight off the infection with complete safety. This, the team said, suggests a path forward for clinical development and human-testing of this vaccine.
For this work, the researchers collected coronavirus strains from COVID-19+ patients in China, Italy, Switzerland, the UK, and Spain. Then, one of the strains was developed into a purified, inactivated vaccine candidate, which could prime the immune system to generate the antibodies needed to detect and fight off an active version of the virus. Meanwhile, the rest were used for testing its efficacy.
Now, the team is moving to begin clinical human trials to test the efficacy and safety of this vaccine. The work is slated to begin in the coming months and will proceed with more confidence, given the vaccine gave 'complete protection' in the animal tests. Notably, other companies testing experimental COVID-19 vaccines had skipped the crucial animal testing part to fast-track the development.
At least 76 COVID-19 vaccine candidates have been developed, but most are in the pre-clinical stage of trials. The most promising among all is Oxford University's vaccine, which is in clinical trials and is expected to become available by September-October (best case scenario).