IBRI IN THE NEWS: Pushing Hard for a COVID-19 Vaccine

May 29, 2020

The race is on.

Around the world, more than 80 vaccine projects are under development by pharmaceutical companies and university research laboratories scrambling to find a way to slow or stop the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe.

At Purdue University, scientists are studying numerous molecules that inhibit the virus. At the Indiana University School of Medicine, researchers are exploring virus-like particles that might generate an immune response in humans.

At Eli Lilly and Co., hundreds of scientists, working in partnership with biotech companies in China and Canada, are examining antibodies taken from patients who have been infected with the hope of mass producing the most potent ones as a preventive treatment.

And at Butler University, researchers are focusing on an enzyme that cuts large viral proteins into smaller proteins, a process that accelerates the replication of the virus, to see if they can find a way to inhibit that process and help stop the spread.

It’s crunch time for researchers, as they try to find the best and fastest way to halt the rapid spread of a virus that has infected more than 5 million people and claimed more than 348,000 lives in just a few months, including more than 100,000 in the United States.

The stakes are gigantic: public health, the world economy and big potential profits for industry.

Fewer than 10 of the projects under development by pharmaceutical makers, biotech innovators, government researchers and academic laboratories have reached clinical trials—or the stage in drug development when researchers begin testing the vaccines in humans.

At least four or five possible vaccines “look pretty promising,” and one or two will be ready for large-scale testing by July, with others to follow soon thereafter, NIH Director Francis Collins told The Associated Press.

A mad dash

With political leaders pushing hard for progress, researchers are going full bore.

“There’s certainly enormous pressure on everybody in the scientific community and vaccine industry to come up with some kind of … vaccine or therapeutic to deal with those pathogens,” said Vidadi Yusibov, director of the Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Center at the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, an independent not-for-profit in Indianapolis.

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