A possible vaccine for the new coronavirus has shown good enough results in animals to attract federal money to take it to the next level, but researchers at Colorado State University took the precaution that it has many obstacles to solve before going public. .
CSU labs have produced a small amount of a vaccine and tested it on hamsters, said Ray Goodrich, executive director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research. Hamsters have built up an immune defense and won’t get sick if exposed to the virus, but not everything that looks promising in small animals works as well in humans.
However, the results are interesting enough to attract around $ 700,000 in funds from the Federal Advanced Biomedical Research and Development Authority. CSU is adding approximately $ 448,000 to help increase production of the vaccine for eventual human testing.
Viruses inject their genetic material into their host’s cells, essentially hijacking the host’s body to produce more copies of the virus. The body, in turn, recognizes the proteins on the outside of the virus and learns to attack it. The process being studied at CSU destroys the virus’ genetic material, leaving the exterior intact, so the body forms defenses but is not at risk, Goodrich said.
It is something like shaking an egg: the egg does not hatch, but it is not damaged on the outside.
“We are stirring the (genetic material) inside and leaving the shell behind,” he said.
The process involves the use of ultraviolet light and riboflavin, also called vitamin B2, to kill viruses. It is already used to sterilize donated blood in some countries, although it is not approved in the United States, and has been shown to kill some other types of coronavirus.
CSU already has a biocontainment laboratory and biomedical manufacturing facility built to work with highly infectious viruses and bacteria, thanks to funding from the state and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Goodrich said. There, a team of researchers will grow large numbers of cells that the virus will infect, generating a constant supply of viruses that they will kill to make the vaccine, she said.
The grants will help with the costs of ensuring that everything is done according to the strict standards of the United States Food and Drug Administration, Goodrich said. They have to prove that the process is working at every step: that they have successfully cultivated the virus, removed the impurities and killed it, and that manufacturing is up to the task.
If the process works as expected, they would give the candidate vaccine to healthy volunteers and look for an immune response in their blood, while monitoring for any side effects, Goodrich said. If the small studies look good, they would gradually test it on a larger group of volunteers and see if they get the virus while they live.
“Those require very careful and well thought-out clinical studies,” he said.
If larger studies show that the vaccine protects people, CSU would partner with a government entity or a pharmaceutical company to produce it for the commercial market. She couldn’t put a schedule on the job, but said a prediction by NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci that a vaccine will take at least 18 months seems reasonable. And that is a little less time than the process that sometimes takes; For example, it took seven years for the polio vaccine to get from the laboratory to the doctor’s office, he said.
“There is still a long way to go, but we have made great strides,” he said.
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