VaccinesLabs Are Experimenting with New – but Unproven – Methods to Create a Coronavirus Vaccine Fast

Published 27 March 2020

This is the idea behind vaccines: give the body an opportunity to build defenses against a virus it may encounter in the future.Jean Peccoud writes in The Conversation that with the coronavirus literally making time a matter of life and death, nearly 50 public and private labs are turning to newer, safer and faster methods to develop a coronavirus vaccine. There are three categories of vaccines:
Protein-based vaccines: Rather than injecting the whole virus, it is possible to vaccinate a person with a single virus component. The pieces most commonly used are proteins from the surface of a virus.Two companies, Sanofi and Novawax, are both developing protein vaccines based on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the tower-shaped structures on the surface of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Gene-based vaccines: Theoretically, the simplest and fastest way to make a vaccine would be to have a person’s own cells produce minute quantities of the viral protein that trigger an immune response. To do that researchers are turning to genetics.As of yet, there are no DNA vaccines currently approved by the FDA for human use and the success of this method has been limited. But there is promise. In 2016, several groups developed candidate Zika vaccines using this technology and at least one company, INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is developing INO-4800, a DNA vaccine candidate for the coronavirus. Notable in the U.S. is Moderna, and on March 16, the National Institutes of Health started a clinical trial of Moderna’s lead coronavirus vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273.
Friendly virus vaccines: The main issue with gene-based vaccines is getting the DNA or RNA to where it needs to be. One elegant way to solve this challenge is to use a harmless virus as a delivery system. This technique is being pursued by a few companies around the world. For example, Hong Kong-based CanSino Biologics is inserting the coronavirus gene that codes for the spike protein into an adenovirus. They used this strategy to produce the first government-approved Ebola vaccine, and clinical trials of an engineered adenovirus that would protect against the coronavirus have already started in China.