Three vaccines – one adenovirus vector and two inactivated – have entered clinical trials in China, and experts say more research is needed to evaluate their safety and efficacy.
The vector vaccine, which completed phase-one trial at the end of March and started phase-two trial on April 9, is spearheaded by Chen Wei, an academician at the Institute of Military Medicine under the Academy of Military Sciences. It is also the first COVID-19 vaccine to enter the second stage of clinical trial in the world.
One inactivated vaccine is jointly created by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co., Ltd and the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the other is developed by Sinovac Research and Development Co., Ltd based in Beijing. The two inactivated vaccines entered clinical trials on April 12 and 13, respectively.
Vaccine development is a complex and long-term process, and its entry into clinical trials marks a step closer for human beings to better protection.
Ding Sheng, director of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Tsinghua University and director of the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute, told People’s Daily that market application of a vaccine has to abide by laws and regulations and follow technical standards, and there is a relatively fixed procedure for vaccine research and development, which usually takes a long time. The safety and efficacy must be strictly verified before the vaccines are massively injected to the people, he explained.
Ding introduced that in order to accelerate the R&D of COVID-19 vaccines, researchers have adopted unconventional methods in preclinical researches.
For example, they have designed, evaluated, and built animal models in a simultaneous, rather than successive manner to earn more time.
Developing COVID-19 vaccines is like walking fast on a steel wire because the researchers have to treasure every minute and ensure the vaccines’ safety and efficiency. “We understand that people are eagerly waiting for the vaccine, but from a scientific point of view, we can’t lower the standards,” Ding stressed.
A number of scientists believe that the COVID-19 vaccines will be approved to hit the market in 12 to 18 months based on optimistic estimate, which is much shorter than the general situation as it normally takes over 10 years to develop a vaccine.
They predicted so because of the all-out research efforts made by scientists around the globe, the green channels opened for faster approval, the improved technologies for vaccine manufacturing and the development methods with higher efficiency.
Yan Jinghua, a researcher from the Institute of Microbiology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told People’s Daily that as the research on life sciences is making progress, more methods for vaccine production have emerged and vaccine technologies have improved. He added that each vaccine has its own characteristics, and the advantages and disadvantages complement each other.
To raise the success rate for R&D of COVID-19 vaccine, China has five types of vaccines in development, and they are progressing smoothly. The five vaccines include inactivated vaccine, recombinant protein vaccine, adenovirus vector vaccine, nucleic acid vaccines, and attenuated vaccine, covering the major types of COVID-19 vaccines under study worldwide.
The process from vaccine R&D to production is a long chain , and China enjoys the advantage of integrating all the resources along the chain, which enables the country to simultaneously advance vaccine R&D, approval, and production.
At present, countries in the world are at different stages of pandemic prevention and control. It is necessary to strengthen international cooperation to form a joint force on R&D so as to develop a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible.