Texas scientists share design for new, inexpensive vaccine against Covid-19

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Passengers pass by a sign offering free vaccination against Covid-19 and additional injections at a pop-up clinic in the International Arrivals Zone of Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 2021.

Passengers pass by a sign offering free vaccination against Covid-19 and additional injections at a pop-up clinic in the International Arrivals Zone of Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 2021.
Picture: Frederic J. Brown / AFP (Getty Images)

Despite some really important medical progress this year, the covid-19 pandemic is far from over, both in the United States and in poorer countries with low vaccination rates. But there is hope on the immediate horizon. Cheap, easy-to-store and effective covid-19 vaccines will soon be mass-produced and distributed worldwide. This includes one particularly promising vaccine developed by Texas researchers that was just approved in India this week.

On Tuesday, Indian health regulators granted approval for the emergency use of Corbevax vaccine, developed by scientists at the Texas Children’s Hospital Vaccine Development Center at Baylor College of Medicine. The vaccine was further developed and tested in partnership with the Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E, which will deal with local vaccine production. Clinical trials have shown that Corbevax is safe, and estimates show that it is more than 90% effective against the original form of the coronavirus, as well as more than 80% effective against the Delta variant.

They are researchers billing their creation as a “world vaccine against covid-19”. Its core technology, which uses a portion of the spiky coronavirus protein grown from yeast cells, has long been used in vaccines, most notably the hepatitis B vaccine. It is important that it can be stored using standard refrigeration, which would allow for wider transport and use of mRNA vaccines that require special refrigeration.

Moreover, vaccine technology was developed without patents, and researchers plan to widely share their designs and / or jointly develop the vaccine with all willing producers and countries without additional financial gain. As a result, the mass-produced single dose is estimated for about $ 1.50. By comparison, Pfizer and Moderna recently signed contracts reportedly charges about $ 25 per dose in Europe.

Biological E reportedly has already produced 150 million doses of Corbevax and should be able to produce 100 million doses per month. The team reportedly also shared its technology with manufacturers in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Botswana.

“Our vaccine development program brings together the hearts and passions of scientists from so many different backgrounds. We are privileged to be able to give all our knowledge and experience and bring this vaccine to many in India and around the world, ”said Maria Elena Bottazzi, one of the leading vaccine developers and co-director of the Children’s Hospital Vaccine Development Center in Texas. said Gizmodo.

Efforts are ongoing to provide vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, most notably in the COVAX program led by the World Health Organization. But COVAX has died far below expectations, having procured and distributed less than half of the 2 billion doses it intended to procure by the end of 2021. Richer countries have also donated doses, and the U.S. apparently promised earlier this year to support waiving patents for existing vaccines like the one developed by Pfizer and Moderna – probably an important step to expand the distribution of these newer, more expensive and more complex vaccine products. But talk to negotiate these waivers have come to a complete halt, and the United States has supposedly little done actually push for them. Currently only 58% of the world’s population he received at least one dose of the vaccine, while less than half are fully vaccinated – a difference that is even worse in many poorer countries.

Baylor’s vaccine was already stifled by a lack of funding early on, and the team failed to secure funding through the Operation Warp Speed ​​initiative conducted last year in the U.S. to accelerate vaccine development. In the end, they managed to raise enough funds, mostly through benevolence, but it undoubtedly slowed down their timeline. According to Peter Hotez, co-programmer and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Baylor, the lack of focus on providing vaccines for all has had serious consequences – consequences he hopes his team’s vaccine will now begin treatment.

“It’s so exciting to be able to make a difference in vaccinating the world,” Hotez told Gizmodo. “Apart from the obvious humanitarian impulse, that is the only way to prevent the emergence of future variants. If we had the means to do it earlier, South Africa might have been vaccinated and Omicron might never have appeared. ”

Of course, there are still important questions about Cobrevax that need to be answered. Namely, it is not yet known how effective it will be against the Omicron variant, which has started to overtake Delta as the dominant version of the virus. Omicron is worrying because its many mutations make it easier to infect people with some previous immunity created by vaccination or infection (on the other hand, this immunity still seems to reduce its severity). However, the team plans to have data on Omicron soon, and there is evidence to suggest that Cobrevax may be better at providing lasting protection in general than some other vaccines. It is possible that Cobrevax could also be used as a supplement to other vaccines, and other data show that supplemental injections restore some protection against Omicron infection.

Corbevax is not the only vaccine that could become a boon for poorer countries. Just this week, Mexico became the last to approve a three-dose vaccine created by Cuba called Abdala. Abdala and another Cuban vaccine, Soberna 02, were similarly developed using long-established and inexpensive vaccine technology, and clinical trials have shown that the vaccine was over 90% effective against disease. After the summer peak of the pandemic, the number of Covid-19 cases in Cuba was recorded fell sharply since the vaccination rate has risen to over 90% with at least one dose. It’s the state I am still waiting that the WHO decides whether to approve its covid-19 vaccines, which are likely to be needed for widespread use outside the country. If that happens, Cuba has promised spread your technology with the rest of the world.

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