Mar 17, 2020

By Jane Brown

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U.S. public health experts say the first human trial to evaluate a candidate vaccine against the new coronavirus has begun in Seattle, raising hopes in the global fight against the disease.

(A 3D print of a spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in front of a 3D print of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. AFP Photo/Handout)

“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with COVID 19 is an urgent public health priority and this Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal,” declared Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

But it may be another year to 18 months before it becomes available, once it has passed more trial phases to prove it works and is safe.

There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments against the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, which has infected more than 182,000 people across the world since it was first identified in central China in late December. More than 7100 have died, mostly in China, followed by Italy.

The vaccine is called mRNA-1273 and was developed by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists and collaborators at biotechnology company Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“The open-label trial will enroll 45 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 55 years over approximately 6 weeks,” the NIH said. “The first participant received the investigational vaccine on Monday.”

Funding was also provided by the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

The Seattle trial will study the impact of different doses delivered by intramuscular injection in the upper arm, with participants monitored for side-effects like soreness or fever.

Coronaviruses are spherical and have spikes protruding from their surface, giving them a crown-like appearance. The spike binds to human cells, allowing the virus to gain entry.

The Moderna candidate vaccine carries the genetic information of this spike in a substance called “messenger RNA.”

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