UPDATED: Friday, June 12 at 7 a.m. ET
Moderna continues to lead the pack; just this week, it finalized the design of a phase 3 study of its COVID-19 vaccine, which is slated to begin in July. But other players aren’t slacking off—Pfizer and BioNTech, whose vaccines are in early clinical trials, plan to ramp up their work in the fall with a study involving thousands of patients. And AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have kicked off a phase 2/3 study of their candidate that aims to enroll more than 10,000 patients.
Along the way, numerous other players have moved their prospects into the clinic and Merck finally jumped into the fray. At the end of May, the Big Pharma inked a deal to take over Austria’s Themis, picking up its vaccine platform with plans to start testing a COVID-19 vaccine in humans this year.
Finally, in April, Rick Bright was ousted from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the HHS unit he directed. The vaccine specialist said in a statement that he felt he was pressured to funnel cash toward the old anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections."
“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Bright said in the statement.
UPDATED: Friday, April 17 at 11 a.m. ET
Since Moderna kicked off a human trial of its mRNA vaccine, the company has secured up to $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to bankroll late-stage trials for the vaccine as well as step up its manufacturing. If its phase 1 study goes to plan, the company expects to start a phase 2 trial in the second quarter, with phase 3 to follow as early as this fall.
BioNTech and CureVac, two German biotechs also developing mRNA vaccines, told regulators earlier this month that some clinical trial hurdles should be removed if governments want to introduce vaccines as quickly as possible. And Sanofi jumped on the mRNA bandwagon, too, expanding its infectious disease pact with Translate Bio to include COVID-19. It joins its Big Pharma peer Pfizer, which is collaborating with BioNTech.
Biopharma companies continued to strike partnerships with each other as well as with public agencies. Johnson & Johnson and BARDA are committing as much as $1 billion to develop a vaccine, while GlaxoSmithKline allied with Vir Biotechnology on COVID-19 research. Their first focus will be a pair of therapeutic antibodies, but the duo will work on vaccines as well.
UPDATED: Friday, March 20 at 10:23 a.m. ET
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 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.