Scientists have made new advances in the pursuit for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Biotech company Moderna says its experimental vaccine creates antibodies and is generally safe and well-tolerated. It’s the first vaccine to be tested on people in the U.S. The viral challenge study overseen by government was found to produce the same or better antibody levels as convalescent plasma.
Moderna is optimistic about its next research phases and is already investing in scaling up manufacturing.
There are other vaccine-related initiatives happening simultaneously to make sure research progresses even faster.
More than 20,000 people from over 100 countries have signed up with the group 1 Day Sooner to be part of a vaccine challenge trial.
In a standard vaccine trial, half of a group of people get a vaccine and the other half get a placebo, then you wait and see who gets infected passively, which takes at minimum six months, usually years.
In a challenge trial, you do the same thing in terms of vaccine and placebo, but instead of waiting for people to get infected, they come to a medical facility where they are exposed to the virus. And then, over the course of a few weeks, you can directly observe how well it works.
Advocates say it saves time and you don't need as many people.
“And because you've calculated it, something like 80% of the people you expose to this nasal spray or this dose are going to be infected,” said Josh Morrison, the founder of 1 Day Sooner. “You can do these studies with traditionally something like 100 people or so.”
1 Day Sooner put the wheels in motion right away to not only get possible challenge trial participants signed up, but also to start safe production of the virus to inject. They have to figure out what the right dose is to give people and how to give it to them. The group is working to get vendors and funding for that now.
Human challenge trials have been used with other diseases and viruses. In fact, the drug Tamiflu was developed with a challenge trial.
There are limitations, like you typically only test a younger, healthy population.
Challenge trials are not intended to replace standard trials, just get some results quicker.
“So, as we spend billions of dollars ramping up manufacturing capacity, its really helpful if when we're spending that money, we have some idea of whether these vaccines could work,” said Morrison.
Companies like Johnson & Johnson have expressed interest in challenge trials with COVID-19.
In an ethics report, the World Health Organization also laid out a path for human challenge trials, including risks which they noted would be higher than previous ones.
“If you look at the risks of participating in a challenge trial, we would say they are roughly comparable to the risks of pregnancy or something like kidney donation,” said Morrison.
If you're interested in participating in a COVID-19 vaccine challenge trial, you can visit 1 Day Sooner’s website to sign up. There's also a way to support their efforts without having to volunteer.