There are a lot of coronavirus vaccines in the works⁠— but these are the two that Indians should watch out for

From passive coronavirus vaccines with RNA and DNA-based approaches to active coronavirus vaccines, each has its pros and cons.BCCL

  • Coronavirus vaccines by the University of Oxford and China are in the most advanced clinical phase and likely the best choice for India according to Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.
  • The US coronavirus vaccine candidates may be more talked about but they will likely be much more expensive.
  • “We’re much more comfortable with a jab and a low-cost vaccine, which is what the Oxford and Chinese vaccines are all about,” explained Shaw.
Biotechnology companies around the world are going head-to-head to create the first coronavirus vaccine as the ongoing pandemic continues to wreak havoc on normal life. Some have a headstart over others.

“I think the Oxford vaccine and Chinese vaccine are certainly in the more advanced clinical phase as is the German vaccine. The two US vaccines are, of course, much talked about but we really don’t know whether these RNA vaccines will really work like they’re considered to,” Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar Shaw told Business Insider as a part of its special series ‘Hangout with BI’.


From passive vaccines with RNA and DNA-based approaches to active vaccines, each has its pros and cons. “If you talk about mRNA vaccine, yes, there’s some advantage there but the issue with side-effects is also different,” explained Ramanan Laxinarayan, the Director of Centre of Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP).

According to him, the risk of vector-based vaccines in India is that there’s a strong possibility that people are already immune to certain adenoviruses because they’ve already been exposed to them. This results in the possibility that the vaccine won’t take. “Every idea out there, every platform has pluses and minuses,” he said.

Ordinarily it takes at least five years to develop a viable vaccine. But in these unprecedented times, it’s possible that a solution could present itself in a matter of months.


The front runners for a coronavirus vaccine
The two US coronavirus vaccine candidates being developed by Pfizer — in collaboration with Fosum and Germany's BioNTech — and Moderna, are based on the genetic material of DNA protein 'spike'. “The jury is out there to see if it’s really going to work and even if it does work, I don’t think that’s a vaccine that India will really benefit from because these are very expensive vaccines,” said Shaw.

The ones in the US may not be the best for Indian patients
The US coronavirus vaccine candidates need to be stored at -80 degrees Celsius and have to be delivered intravenously. “We’re much more comfortable with a jab and a low-cost vaccine, which is what the Oxford and Chinese vaccines are all about. These are more typical and conventional vaccines,” she explained.

China has the lead closely followed by the Indian project underway at Oxford
China is currently leading the charge to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Cansino Biological and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology are using an Ebola-based candidate to develop a adenovirus type 5 vector coronavirus vaccine, currently in Phase-1 and Phase-2 of clinical trials.


Another Chinese candidate vaccine is being developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products in partnership with Sinopharm, which is also conducting Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials simultaneously.

Coming in second is the University of Oxford, which is using a non-replicating viral vector approach based on MERS, influenza, TB, chikungunya, Zika and others to develop its coronavirus vaccine.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) — the world’s largest vaccine maker — is already manufacturing Oxford’s vaccine even though it doesn’t have approval yet. It's taking the risk of producing up to 400 million doses by the end of the year, if all goes well.


Is India working on a coronavirus vaccine?
Indian companies, including Biocon, have no intention of being left behind. They are also working on producing a coronavirus vaccine but it's going to take at least nine months before they’re able to get to a clinic, according to Shaw. “The government of India is asking large companies to help the small vaccine biotech companies expedite and advance their programs,” she said.

See also:
Don’t hold your breath ⁠— Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar Shaw says India's Covid-19 vaccine will enter clinical trials in 9 months

Moderna skyrockets 16% to record high after FDA clears coronavirus vaccine for phase 2 study