Antibody testing, vaccine trial: What India and the world are doing for Covid-19 vaccine

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world rapidly, the race to find a vaccine has also been fast-tracked.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with governments, drugmakers and researchers working on around 100 vaccine programmes. Experts predict a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months to develop.

Many companies, in India as well as across the world, have made headway in vaccine development. One such company, Bengaluru-based Strides Pharma Science Ltd said on Thursday that it has got regulatory approval to conduct clinical trials of antiviral drug favipiravir, considered a potential treatment for Covid-19.

Strides’ announcement comes after Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd said last month it became the first pharmaceutical company in the country to get the nod to conduct favipiravir trials. The Mumbai-based company has initiated late-stage clinical trials and expects study results by July or August.

Favipiravir is manufactured under the brand name Avigan by a unit of Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp and was approved for use as an anti-flu drug in the country in 2014.

Translate Bio Inc, a 100-person company based outside Boston, has joined forces with Sanofi to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.

However, on Wednesday, Japan’s Kyodo News reported that so far there has been no clear evidence of efficacy for Avigan in treating Covid-19 in some clinical trials.

US President Donald Trump had disclosed on Tuesday that he was taking hydroxychloroquine despite medical warnings about potential serious side effects and questions about its effectiveness in preventing the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine sulfate was first synthesised in 1946 and is in a class of medications historically used to treat and prevent malaria. It is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, childhood arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. The drug is not FDA-approved for the treatment of Covid-19 but it has been identified as a possible treatment for the infection and the US government has requested its immediate availability.

For treatment, patients have been getting antibody-rich plasma donated by people who recovered from Covid-19, and drugmakers are at work producing refined and concentrated versions of that serum.

Menwhile, the doctors in China are seeing the virus manifest differently in its new cluster of cases, suggesting that the pathogen may be changing and complicating efforts to stamp it out.

However, a leading researcher on cancer, HIV/AIDS and human genome projects said that governments should not count on a successful vaccine against Covid-19 being developed anytime soon.

William Haseltine cautioned that vaccines developed for other types of coronavirus had failed to protect mucous membranes in the nose where the virus typically enters the body.

Tests on animals of experimental Covid-19 vaccines had been able to reduce the viral load in organs like lungs although the infections remained, he said.

However, Haseltine said the virus can still be controlled by careful tracing of infections and strict isolation measures, and urged people to wear masks, wash hands, clean surfaces and keep a distance.

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