Developing a vaccine against Covid-19 is the most pressing challenge and by the current estimates, funding to the tune of $18.1 billion will be required to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of World Health Organisation, said on Friday.
Over 200 vaccine candidates are at different stages of development and 15 are in human clinical trials. “There is a hope that we can have a vaccine in 12-18 months’ time,” Dr Swaminathan said while addressing a virtual media conference on Friday.
Dr Swaminathan presented the investment requirements to develop the vaccines as rapidly as possible, and manufacture at the right volumes without compromising on safety. She said that in addition to upfront investment in research and development and manufacturing, commitments from high-income and upper middle-income countries were needed to procure 950 million doses through the COVAX Facility, and to ensure that vaccines can be delivered at the greatest possible speed.
Responding to queries on leading vaccine candidates, Dr Swaminathan said AstraZeneca had the largest global commitment and was the leading candidate, in terms of timing . “They have advanced to Phase 2 trials and are planning Phase 3 in many countries. Moderna also has plans to go to Phase 3 of clinical trials by mid-July, but AstraZeneca has a more global scope where they are planning clinical trials,” said Dr Swaminathan.
“But until we see results from clinical trials, the efficacy and safety of these candidates remain unknown. That underlines the need to invest in clinical development of multiple vaccine candidates, thus maximising the chances of success,” Dr Swaminathan told The Indian Express.
The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca ‘s experimental vaccine was the first to enter the final stages of clinical trials. The vaccine is also undergoing tirals in South Africa and Brazil, with Serum Institute of India investing $100 million to mass produce one billion doses for India, and other low and middle-income countries.
“There has been tremendous commitment from the private sector as they do see it as their corporate social responsibility, and we are seeing a lot of practical steps being taken, where vaccine developers are tying up with generic companies, which can manufacture at scale, and we sincerely hope this unprecedented collaboration can lead to a vaccine in record time,” said Dr Swaminathan.
“The good news is that we have a globally diversified portfolio of vaccine candidates, with significant contributions from large pharmaceutical companies in the West and similar ones from China and India.. Also, a wide number of countries are at early stage of vaccine projects, and there will be one or two that will be at the front of the race but we need to be humble — we may be super lucky if we can make the world’s fastest vaccine with 12-18 months,” said Sir Andrew Witty, Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), while responding to queries at the virtual media conference.
The ACT-Accelerator, launched at the end of April, brings together governments, health organisations, scientists, businesses, civil society and philanthropists, who have joined forces to expedite an end to the pandemic. On Friday, at the webinar cum virtual press conference organised by the World Health Organisation, the ACT- Accelerator published its consolidated investment case.
According to Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO senior advisor and head of the ACT-Accelerator Coordination Hub, who coordinated the webinar, the plans called for US $31.3 billion in funding for diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, of which US $3.4 billion has so far been pledged.
The ACT-Accelerator is led by the work of partner organisations collaborating under four pillars. The ACT-Accelerator’s vaccines pillar has created a Global COVID-19 Vaccine Facility, through which countries can work together to share risks by accessing a wide portfolio of vaccine candidates.
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