The latest in the global race for a coronavirus vaccine

MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations (UN) recently launched a collaboration with world leaders and the private sector to "accelerate the development, production, and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics" for COVID-19.

The launch came after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the world still has a "long way to go" in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The UN also said a COVID-19 vaccine may be the only thing that can bring back "normalcy" to the world.

According to an April 23 draft landscape document prepared by the WHO*, there are currently at least 6 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation and 77 candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation.

Three of those 6 candidate vaccines come from China. China, where the coronavirus originated, approved clinical trial for the first vaccine in March, and for the two other vaccines in April.

Nasdaq-listed Sinovac Biotech, which developed one of the two vaccines approved for early-stage human trials in April, said its vaccine has for the first time "largely protected" monkeys from coronavirus infection during an animal trial. The Chinese biotech firm published its findings online 3 days after it began human trials, but these findings have yet to be peer reviewed.

In the United States – now the country worst hit by the coronavirus – Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced early April that its vaccine is entering clinical trials. 

The vaccine funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the second in the US to enter the human testing phase, following Moderna Therapeutics' candidate vaccine which entered human trials in March.

The University of Oxford, another developer listed in the WHO document, began clinical trials for its coronavirus vaccine in April. The British government reportedly announced a £20-million ($24.7-million) funding to support the university's trials. Britain is one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus in Europe.

Other developers to conduct trials soon

Other vaccine developers also announced in April their plans to conduct clinical trials soon. Germany's Paul-Ehrlich-Institut approved clinical trials for an RNA vaccine developed by German firm Biontech and US giant Pfizer, although it was not specified when the trial will begin.

Harvard University, meanwhile, developed a vaccine in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, the drug-making arm of Johnson & Johnson. It plans to launch clinical trials "in the fall as part of a joint $1-billion collaboration agreement announced by the US government and Johnson & Johnson." The university is also working on age-specific and subunit vaccines for the virus.

Both vaccines are listed in the WHO document under "candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation."

Apart from vaccine development, there is still no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat COVID-19. 

A US government-funded study recently showed that hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug widely touted as a potential cure, showed no benefit against the disease over standard care. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed. 

Meanwhile, results inadvertently released by the WHO showed that the experimental coronavirus treatment remdesivir failed in its first randomized clinical trial.

Some countries have already started easing lockdown restrictions amid the pandemic that has so far infected over 2.8 million people and killed over 200,000 across 193 countries and territories. – Jee Y. Geronimo, with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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*The WHO prepared the document for information purposes only. According to the WHO, a product or entity's inclusion in any of these landscape documents "does not constitute, and shall not be deemed or construed as, any approval or endorsement by WHO of such product or entity."