A new Covid-19 vaccine is being developed by Texas researchers using a decades-old conventional method that will make production and distribution cheaper and more accessible to countries hardest hit by the pandemic and where new variants are likely to will occur due to low inoculation 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, have since 2011 developed vaccine prototypes for Sars and Mers, which they reconstructed to create the new Covid vaccine, dubbed Corbevax, or "world's Covid-19 vaccine".
Although more than 60 other vaccines are under development using the same technology, Bottazzi said their vaccine is unique because they do not intend to patent it, giving anyone with the capacity to reproduce it.
"Virtually anyone who can make hepatitis B vaccines or has the capacity to produce microbial-based protein like bacteria or yeast can replicate what we do," Bottazzi said.
Patent wars over mRNA vaccines have recently been heating up. Modern and National Institutes of Health are in a dispute over who should get credit for specific discoveries that led to a Covid-19 vaccine that has been delivered to more than 73 million Americans. If Moderna turns out to have violated the federal government's patent, it could be forced to pay more than $ 1 billion.
At the same time, activists have urged Pfizer and Moderna to share the technology and know-how to produce their vaccines, including taking the fight to the World Trade Organization. Low-income countries, which have few vaccine research and production facilities, have vaccinated only one in nine people, according to the World Health Organization. The United States has fully vaccinated 67% of the population and given a third vaccine dose to more than a third.
Corbevax's clinical trial data have not yet been released due to resource constraints, but Texas Children's Hospital said the vaccine was over 90% effective against the original Covid-19 strain and over 80% effective against the Delta variant. The efficacy of the vaccine against the Omicron variant is currently being tested.
The process of creating the vaccine involves the use of yeast - the same method as hepatitis B vaccines are made.
The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, currently approved in the United States, use various 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 property, the tip proteins that cover 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 tip protein through an otherwise harmless cold virus, a technology called the viral vector.
The Corbevax vaccine uses a platform called recombinant protein sub-unit technology, which places an actual piece of Covid-19's nail protein in 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 laboratory using the yeast system," Bottazzi explained. "We ask the yeast to make a protein that looks like a protein made by the virus. Then we immunize the protein, and the body then processes this protein and presents it to the immune system. Therefore, you do not ask your body to perform any major manipulation. of the coding. "
It is crucial that storage of the Corbevax vaccine requires only standard refrigeration, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage during transport.
Biological E, an Indian pharmaceutical company accustomed to producing hepatitis B vaccines with which 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 produce 100 million doses every month.
After being overlooked by government funding organizations, Bottazzi said, the developers behind Corbevax relied on philanthropic donations to get them over the finish line. The Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development is an academic and scientific institution by nature, but Bottazzi said the development of Corbevax had forced them to stretch their resources to gain visibility as a serious candidate for Covid vaccine development.
"We're learning by ourselves how we perform work that is regulatory enabling, that enables good quality, good reproduction, good registration ... we imitate as if we were a small biotech or production unit," she said. "Every technology has advantages and disadvantages. No one claims to be the only superduper solution. Everyone [vaccines] is part of the solution. But when you have such a serious situation around the world, you do not choose a solution - you try to use all solutions, "said Bottazzi.
Bottazzi said the reason she and her team did not patent the vaccine was because of her team's common philosophy of humanitarianism and engaging in collaboration with the wider scientific community.
"We want to do good in the world. This was the right thing to do, and that's what we morally had to do. We did not even blink. We did not think, 'how can we take advantage of this?' You can see now that if more like us would have been more attuned to how the world is so unequal and how from the beginning we could have helped so many places around the world without thinking "what is this going to give me? ", we basically could not even have seen these variants arise."
Bottazzi hopes her actions will encourage others to follow suit and make cheap and available vaccines against other diseases and viruses, such as hookworms.
"We need to break these paradigms that it is driven only by economic influencers or returns on economic investment. We need to look at the returns in public health."