Researchers worldwide are trying to develop a vaccine and antiviral treatments against the new corona virus spreading in China. At Karolinska Institutet, virus researchers Ali Mirazimi and Matti Sällberg are working to develop a prototype vaccine against the virus. But vaccine development takes time, and it will likely take at least six to nine months before an application for clinical studies can be filed and another two to three years before a vaccine could be ready for the public.
When researchers in China shared the genome of the virus, we were able to almost instantly begin the work of designing different types of vaccines based on our previous knowledge of SARS and MERS, and our experience in vaccine development against hemorrhagic fever and liver virus. Since the corona virus is an RNA-virus that easily mutates, we want to focus on the different parts of the virus that does not change, meaning they are genetically stable and could work on a global scale. Within a few weeks, we hope to have all the reagents to be able to study if our strategy produces an immune response and protection against the virus. We’re working simultaneously on two tracks for vaccine development, one that focuses on a global vaccine and one that focuses on a vaccine for people who are exposed to infected individuals in their jobs, such as medical staff, police officers and firemen. These different groups have somewhat different needs to consider when designing and administering a vaccine.
If all goes according to plan, we could potentially begin to seek approval for clinical studies in humans within six to nine months. One important factor in terms of time and cost is to achieve vaccine production according to the so-called Good Manufacturing Practice, which is the quality needed for tests on people. If we’re granted approval, we then have to go through three phases of clinical studies, all with different requirements. So, we’re talking about at least two to three years before we may have a vaccine that could be rolled out to the public.
Right now, we’re financing this within the frame of existing funds. We are collaborating with several different networks and other countries, and if we manage to develop a prototype vaccine, we will need much bigger resources to handle the clinical studies as well as the potential production and distribution.