First phase of human trials begin for experimental coronavirus vaccine
Preliminary human trials of a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccine have begun at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle. The vaccine was injected into four volunteers as part of clinical trials funded by the US National Institutes of Health and, while results of this phase 1 trial are more than a year away, the eventual aim is to create an effective vaccine against the pandemic-causing virus.
Called mRNA-1273, the new vaccine is being made using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, an experimental approach aimed at facilitating much faster vaccine development.
Conventional vaccines are created by using weakened or killed versions of the target virus that prime the body's immune system so it can identify the virus and combat it in case of actual infection, but mRNA vaccines are designed to trigger our immune system in a different way, instructing cells to produce specific proteins.
mRNA-1273 is not made from nor does it use any part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Instead, researchers identified and recreated a short segment of the mRNA that tells cells how to make a protein found on the surface of the virus. The hope is that the mRNA can be injected into the body and produce the same immune response to SARS-CoV-2 as a conventional vaccine. In addition, the mRNA segment cannot cause an infection and breaks down naturally in the human body.
Kaiser Permanente stresses that the research is in its very early stages and these trials are not intended to test the vaccine's effectiveness, but rather to study its safety and how the immune system responds to it. mRNA vaccines are very new and, though some have been developed for other diseases like the Zika virus and human metapneumovirus, and there are even hopes of using the technique to develop a universal flu vaccine, none have yet been cleared for use.
The Phase 1 trial will involve three groups of 15 people aged between 18 and 55 who are healthy and live or work in Seattle. Each group will be given different doses given in two injections 28 days apart. The results will then be monitored over 14 months.
KPWHRI says that it is still seeking volunteers in Seattle, who can apply here.