Using an algorithm designed at their laboratory, biotechnology company Inovio Pharmaceuticals claims to have discovered a vaccine to combat the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) in only three hours.
“We have an algorithm, which we designed, and we put the DNA sequence into our algorithm and came up with the vaccine in that short amount of time,” said Dr. Trevor Smith, director of research and development at Inovio.
According to researchers at the lab in San Diego in the United States, they have the infrastructure and expertise to find the vaccine. The vaccine has so far been tested on animals and will be available for clinical trials in a few months, possibly in the northern hemisphere summer months, which is considered to be a record time for testing to be made available to humans.
The California-based lab had also developed vaccines for the Zika virus, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Ebola.
Promising new vaccine
On January 9, Chinese scientists released the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus and researchers around the world have been scrambling to find a vaccine for it.
According to a senior scholar at the independent, nonprofit organization, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Dr. Amesh Adalja, given the technology and infrastructure of Inovio, scientists are positive the vaccine could be a viable option to tackling the deadly coronavirus which has killed more than 1,383 people so far as of February 14.
“I think it’s very promising, and Inovio has very advanced technology that they’re using with making a DNA vaccine, which is different than our traditional vaccines,” Dr. Adalja told CBS News.
Collaboration with China
Inovio collaborated with China’s Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology Co. to develop a vaccine with an initial grant of US$9 million funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public-private coalition headquartered in Norway that aims to speed up the development of vaccines. The collaboration will allow the US-based lab to enter China and deliver the new vaccine (named the INO-4800) to much-needed areas as soon as possible.
After the collaboration was announced, Inovio stock surged by 12%.
Besides Inovio, other pharmaceutical firms in the US have entered into collaborations with Chinese labs. US biotech giant, Gilead Sciences, has partnered with Beijing’s China-Japan Friendship Hospital to conduct test runs using an antiviral drug called remdesivir on coronavirus patients in Wuhan.
Researchers say that the combined effort in finding a vaccine for COVID-19 is one of the quickest responses in recent history. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002–2003 saw researchers spend more than 20 months to find an experimental vaccine.