Last March, Donald Trump reportedly tried to lure a German firm into making a Covid vaccine exclusively for the US. After a long radio silence, the company is back on Europe’s radar with its vaccine in late stage human trials. CureVac is only the third company with an mRNA vaccine so far. As the first two mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna had very high efficacy scores, expectations from CureVac are high.
Trials have been on in Europe and Latin America since December, and the results could be out as early as next month. The good news is that, unlike the Pfizer shot that needs to be stored at -70°C, the CureVac shot can be stored safely at +5°C (in an ordinary refrigerator) for three months. This removes the biggest hurdle for bringing mRNA vaccines to poor countries.
ONE SHOT FOR ALL VARIANTS
Any vaccine that’s in trials or use now is essentially designed to beat last year’s coronavirus. A mutating virus has given rise to many variants, some of which appear to reduce vaccine efficacy.
It’s feared the present crop of vaccines could become ineffective with time. So, scientists are working on updating vaccines. And this could become an annual exercise like the flu vaccine. What if we could have vaccines that target multiple variants of the virus? In the first week of February, CureVac and pharma giant GSK signed a deal to make such a multivariant Covid vaccine. They hope to have a shot ready for the market next year. Gamaleya, the Russian institute that developed the Sputnik V vaccine, has also announced it is working on a vaccine that can tackle several Covid strains at once.
Institute director Alexander Gintsburg told the Rossiya 24 channel their new vaccine will “include antigens not from one, but two, three, four or five different coronavirus variants.” They have planned clinical trials by the end of 2021, and a launch in 2022.
FIGHTING FUTURE VIRUSES
But these multi-valent vaccines will only target the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. There are many other types of coronaviruses, ranging from those that cause common colds to those that caused Sars in 2002 and Mers in 2012. The first two coronavirus pandemics occurred after a gap of 10 years. The third (Covid-19) came after only seven years and has killed about 2.5 million people so far.
What if another coronavirus goes rogue five years from now, or next year? It would be good to have vaccines that can fight any coronavirus ready in advance. Fortunately, this is possible because all coronaviruses are similar. “This is an easy family of viruses to take down,” Dr Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research Institute, tells The New York Times. Several labs are now working to make a “pancoronavirus vaccine”.
A company called VBI Vaccines made a shot using the spike proteins of Sars, Mers and Covid viruses (spike protein is the part coronaviruses use to attach themselves to human cells). Mice injected with it made antibodies against not only these three viruses but also a human coronavirus that causes the common cold. In another experiment at Caltech, a vaccine made using proteins from eight different coronaviruses produced antibodies against 12 coronaviruses. If these experiments lead to a “universal vaccine”, we might never have to face another coronavirus pandemic again