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A Vast COVID-19 Vaccine Effort Underway Around the World

May 18, 2020 (EIRNS)—There is a vast global effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19. In the United States, President Donald Trump announced an initiative on May 15—“Operation Warp Speed”—which is aimed at speeding up vaccine development, developing an infrastructure for rapid manufacture, and preparing the U.S. Army to ensure speedy distribution. With military cooperation under General Gustave F. Perna, current commander of the Army Matériel Command, Operation Warp Speed will facilitate distribution—“by every plane, truck, and soldier,” to use Trump’s phrase—of the vaccine.

International cooperation has been stressed by the Presidents of both China and the United States in the recent few days. On May 15, Trump stated that “We have no ego. Whoever gets it, we think it’s great. We’re going to work with them. They’re going to work with us. Likewise, if we get it, we’re going to be working with them.” He was asked whether the United States would have access to a vaccine if it were first developed by China. Trump replied, “Yes. The answer would be yes.” President Xi Jinping made this clear on May 18 in his remarks to the annual World Health Assembly of the 194 members of the World Health Organization, in which he stated that any vaccine developed in China would be a global public good, available to all.

Moncef Slaoui, PhD will serve as chief scientific adviser to Warp Speed, leading its vaccine program. Slaoui, as chief of vaccine programs at GlaxoSmithKline, oversaw the development of 14 vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed will now coordinate the public-private partnership, Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV), with the ongoing work by Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). With ACTIV, the U.S. NIH has been working with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms to create a master plan so each potential vaccine is tested the same way, using the same database, instead of each company devising its own methods. ACTIV is compared to an umbrella, “where vaccine makers can sign on when they’re ready to start enrolling.” Included are 16 drug makers, including Pfizer, Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb, and GlaxoSmithKline. The European Medicines Agency is also included. Through BARDA, the U.S. government is also funding manufacturing build-outs by private drug makers through grants.

Indicating how non-linear this effort is, on May 17 “more than three dozen asset managers, pension funds, and insurers” came out, holding the feet of the pharmaceutical industry to the fire. They demanded that Big Pharma cooperate in the fight against COVID-19, “by sharing research data and providing affordable worldwide access to medicines, diagnostics, and vaccines.” Vaccines are not necessarily big money makers for pharmaceutical companies, which is why there are periodic vaccine shortages. Today only four companies make vaccines for the U.S. market, down from 27 in the 1950s and 18 in 1980. Everything has to be increased, rebuilt, or both!

There is a worldwide drive to develop vaccines and therapies:

• China now has five potential COVID-19 vaccines in human clinical testing, with 2,036 volunteers already dosed at the phase 2 stage, Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said at a press briefing May 15. The plan is that these efforts “will complete the second phase of clinical trials in July this year,” Zeng said.

• Harvard University and other researchers are continuing their collaboration in ongoing COVID-19 vaccine efforts with Chinese researchers, utilizing teleconferencing and other tools. This outbreak is not something any organization can face independently, and only cooperation can better combat the pandemic, said George Q. Daley from Harvard Medical School, part of such a team. China’s top respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan is also a part of this team.

• A research team at the Institut Pasteur Korea has reported that pancreatitis drug nafamostat appears to be much more effective than remdesivir. Previously, a team at the University of Tokyo in Japan found the drug could effectively block the viral entry process of the new coronavirus. A clinical trial of the drug started in April, according to the NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine.

• In France, Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines global business unit of Sanofi, writes that it is leveraging previous development work for a vaccine for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS—caused by a coronavirus) as it works to develop a COVID-19 vaccine (which virus is known as SARS-CoV-2). Sanofi is collaborating with BARDA, with which they have had a longstanding partnership.

• On May 13, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s national legislature, that the first batch of possible vaccines may be available by late July, following clinical trials in June. In March, Russia had announced that it had already started testing six types of vaccines against COVID-19.

• In the U.K., investigators from the University of Oxford announced on April 23 that they have begun testing a potential vaccine in 1,100 volunteer patients, and anticipate results in two to six months. Investigators will be assessing a vaccine based on an adenovirus vaccine vector and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, said a statement from Oxford. The adenovirus vector is made from a weakened version of an adenovirus shown to cause infections in chimpanzees.

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