Positive Drug Trials Point to a COVID-19 Vaccine on the Horizon

A new COVID-19 Vaccine may be underway

We’re officially closer to finding a new COVID-19 vaccine. In the last two weeks, pharmaceutical companies Moderna and AstraZeneca released promising data on their vaccines — respectively named mRNA-1273 and AZD1222. There’s still more testing to be done, but we’re getting closer to finding a heavily vetted vaccine that may be able to turn the tide against COVID-19. 

First a quick primer on the new, innovative methods used to create both COVID-19 vaccines. Traditionally, most vaccines use the whole virus in forming a cure. However, AstraZeneca uses a small amount of weakened live virus to carry DNA into cells to stimulate an immune response. Then there are genetic vaccines, which can use one or more of a virus’s own genes to achieve a positive immune response. Moderna’s vaccine falls in this category and uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to stimulate the body to produce viral proteins to fight COVID-19. 

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a two-dose regimen of Moderna’s vaccine caused an anti-COVID-19 response. Three groups of 15 patients each (ages 18-45) were given a  25μg (micrograms), 100μg, or 250μg dose of mRNA-1273. Chills, headache, fatigue, and pain were the adverse effects reported and were more apparent in the higher doses. Though, Moderna noted that the 100μg dose had a high immune response with a better side effect profile compared to the 250μg dose. The company has an ongoing Phase II trial of their vaccine testing the 50μg and 100μg dosages in 600 adults, and a Phase III trial involving 30,000 patients is set to start on July 27. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine also showed promising results from their Phase I and II trials, which were published in The Lancet. The study shows that 91% of participants who received a single dose experienced a four-fold increase in antibodies a month after injection. This four-fold increase was also seen in 100% of patients who received a second dose on day 28. Researchers said that a T-cell response, which may indicate long-term immunity, was observed in both groups at two months after the first injection. Like Moderna’s vaccine, there were no serious adverse events reported, though mild-to-moderate headache, fatigue, chills, fever, pain, and muscle aches were reported in many participants. AstraZeneca has already started Phase II/III trials.

Moderna and AstraZeneca’s results come on the heels of similar promising results released earlier this month from Pfizer and BioNTech for their COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b1. Those two companies plan to start a Phase II/IIIb study by the end of the month. Having a vaccine available by the end of the year could happen as just this week, the US government and Pfizer inked a nearly $2 billion deal for the drugmaker to provide 100 million doses of their vaccine by December.

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

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