A scientist at RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics research a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at a laboratory in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan

US and China have reported first human trial for a possible vaccine against COVID-19, and drugmakers are scrambling for a breakthrough. Yet it could still take more than a year before a safe vaccine is ready to market.

“It will likely take at least a year for a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved and made available to patients; something which Pharma Tech readers acknowledged when voting in our latest poll,” said Allie Nawrat, senior medical reporter at market research firm GlobalData.

“With over 164,000 votes cast, the results show than almost 33% of readers believe it will take over a year, while 28% are optimistic there could be a vaccine available within three months.”

Nawrat said experts think the vaccine is at least a year away as the virus has already mutated into two strains.

Chinese state media on Tuesday reported that the government has given the go-ahead for researchers to begin human safety tests of an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

Researchers at China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, affiliated to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), received approval to launch early-stage clinical trials of the potential vaccine starting this week, the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily reported.

Scientists in the United States said on Monday that clinical trials had begun for a vaccine developed by its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the US biotech firm Moderna.

“We believe our mRNA vaccine technology offers potential advantages in the speed of development and production scalability, which positions Moderna to potentially develop a vaccine against coronavirus, 2019-nCoV [COVID-19,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna chief executive.

The vaccine candidate is supported by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), one of the leaders in vaccine development for this current outbreak.

“Since the outbreak first started spreading globally in January, CEPI has funded multiple vaccine candidates from biotech firms, pharma companies and university labs; importantly, the innovations CEPI supports are those that not only intend to produce a vaccine against this novel virus, but involve pioneering technologies that can speed up the development of vaccines in future outbreaks,” Nawrat commented.

Conceived in 2015, CEPI was founded in Davos in 2017 by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the World Economic Forum.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi and American drugmaker Regeneron said they had started clinical trials for Kevzara, a drug currently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and which they hope will reduce lung inflammation in severe cases of coronavirus illness.

Details in the Chinese clinical trial registration database show that a “Phase 1” test that will examine whether experimental shot is safe in humans aims to recruit 108 healthy people to take part between March 16 and December 31.

The US trial will enrol 45 healthy adult volunteers aged 18 to 55 years over approximately six weeks.

“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority,” said NIAID Director Anthony S Fauci. “This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step towards achieving that goal.”

Experts at the World Health Organization say they do not expect any fully tested and approved vaccine to reach the market until the middle of next year.

(With Inputs from Agencies)

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