A new Covid-19 vaccine is being developed by Texas scientists using a decades-old conventional method that will make production and distribution cheaper and more accessible to the countries hardest hit by the pandemic and where new variants are likely to emerge due to low vaccination rates.
The team, led by Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Bottazzi of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, has been developing vaccine prototypes for Sars and Mers since 2011, which they reconstructed to create the new Covid vaccine. , called Corbevax. , or “the world’s Covid-19 vaccine”.
although more than 60 other vaccines are in development that use the same technology, Bottazzi said their vaccine is unique in that they don’t plan to patent it so anyone with the capacity can reproduce it.
“Virtually anyone who can make hepatitis B vaccines or have the capacity to produce microbial proteins like bacteria or yeast can replicate what we do,” Bottazzi said.
Patent wars over mRNA vaccines have flared up recently. Moderna and the National Institutes of Health are in a dispute over who should take credit for specific discoveries that led to a Covid-19 vaccine being delivered to more than 73 million Americans. If Moderna is found to have infringed the federal government’s patent, it could be forced to pay more than… $1 billion.
At the same time, activists Pfizer and Moderna have called for the sharing of technology and know-how for the production of their vaccines, including the fight against the World Trade Organization. Low-income countries, which have few vaccine research and manufacturing facilities, have vaccinated only one in nine people, according to the report. World Health Organisation. The US has fully vaccinated 67% of the population and provided a third vaccine dose to more than a third.
Corbevax’s clinical trial data has yet to be released due to resource constraints, but Texas Children’s Hospital said the vaccine was more than 90% effective against the original Covid-19 strain and more than 80% effective against the Delta variant. The efficacy of the vaccine against the Omicron variant is currently being tested.
The process of making the vaccine involves the use of yeast – the same method by which hepatitis B vaccines are produced.
The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines currently approved in the US use different technologies or vaccine “platforms”. Moderna and Pfizer use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. This platform introduces the immune system to Covid-19 by providing instructions on how to produce its most recognizable feature, the spike proteins that coat its surface. This helps the immune system recognize and fight the virus later, if a person is exposed. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine introduces immune cells to the spike protein via an otherwise harmless cold virus, a technology called a viral vector.
The Corbevax vaccine uses a platform called recombinant protein subunit technology, which places a real piece of Covid-19’s spike protein into yeast cells. The yeast cells then copy the vital protein and the protein is introduced into the immune system.
“We make the protein, directly and synthetically, in the lab using the yeast system,” explains Bottazzi. “We ask the yeast to make a protein that looks like a protein made by the virus. We then immunize the protein and the body then processes this protein and presents it to the immune system. That’s why you’re not asking your body to do a major manipulation of the coding.”
Crucially, the storage of the Corbevax vaccine only requires standard refrigeration, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage during shipment.
Biological E, an Indian pharmaceutical company accustomed to producing hepatitis B vaccines with whom Bottazzi’s team has a long-standing relationship, has already produced 150 million doses of the new Corbevax vaccine and will soon be able to deliver 100 million doses per month. produce.
After being overlooked by government organizations for funding, Bottazzi said, the developers behind Corbevax relied on philanthropic donations to get them across the finish line. The Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development is an academic and scientific institution by nature, but Bottazzi said Corbevax’s development had forced them to stretch their resources to gain visibility as a serious candidate for Covid vaccine development.
“We learn for ourselves how to do work that enables regulation, that enables good quality, good reproduction and good registration … we mimic as if we were a small biotech or manufacturing entity,” she said. “Every technology has advantages and disadvantages. No one claims that one is the only solution. all the [vaccines] are part of the solution. But when you have such a serious situation all over the world, you don’t choose one solution — you try to use all the solutions,” Bottazzi said.
Bottazzi said the reason she and her team did not patent the vaccine was because of her team’s shared philosophy of humanitarianism and of working with the wider scientific community.
“We want to do good in the world. This was the right thing to do and this is what we morally had to do. We didn’t even blink. We didn’t think, ‘how can we take advantage of this?’ You see now that if more like us were more attuned to how the world is so unjust and how we could have helped so many places in the world from the start without thinking ‘what’s in it for me?’ we would have these variants actually can’t even see it arise.”
Bottazzi hopes her move will encourage others to follow suit and create affordable and accessible vaccines for other diseases and viruses, such as hookworm.
“We need to break these paradigms that it is only driven by economic impact factors or the return on economic investment. We need to look at the return on public health.”