The hunt is well underway for medicines to combat COVID-19, but it will be longer for vaccines, which protect the body against the disease, than it will for drug treatments, which fight infection once a person has fallen ill.
In March, Moderna became the first biopharma company to test a COVID-19 vaccine in humans, with partners BioNTech and Pfizer aiming to follow suit within weeks. But even though Moderna’s mRNA vaccine made it to phase 1 in record time, experts warn that the 12- to 18-month development time frame suggested by government officials is "overly optimistic." Expect drug treatments to score approval first and act as a “bridge” while the world waits for a vaccine.
Big Pharma companies, small startups, universities and research institutes are working on different types of vaccines, from those with inactivated or weakened versions of the virus to DNA and RNA versions. Behind Moderna, CanSino Biologics secured approval to test its adenovirus-based viral vector vaccine in China, and Johnson & Johnson plans to start human trials of a non-replicating viral vector in November.
Many players are using vaccine platforms they’ve previously deployed against other epidemics—J&J has worked on vaccines for Ebola, HIV and respiratory syncytial virus using its platform, while Sanofi Pasteur has used its protein subunit technology against influenza and SARS.
Here’s a guide to the 35 vaccines in development against COVID-19, compiled by the World Health Organization. Six other institutions, such as the University of Pittsburgh and Tulane University, are also researching potential vaccines, but at earlier stages.