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– Scientists at the National Institutes of Health
are working to create a vaccine for the new coronavirus
that discovered in China,
but they’re not starting from scratch.
They’re employing an approach called
Vaccine Rapid Response Platforms.
It involves high-tech methods that have the potential
to shave years off of development time.
Ideally, they’d offer protection
while an epidemic is still spreading
instead of years later.
Within weeks of the world learning about the Wuhan outbreak,
Chinese scientists uploaded the novel coronavirus’ genetic sequence
to a public database.
That allowed teams around the world
to start designing a vaccine.
Traditional methods require an actual sample of the virus.
Typically, scientists inactivate a virus using special chemicals
before it’s put into a vaccine.
When the inactivated or weakened virus is injected into the body,
the immune system recognizes it
as a foreign invader or an antigen.
Vaccines use antigens to prime the body
to protect against a particular virus,
but vaccines developed
with Rapid Response Platforms work differently.
Rather than directly injecting antigens into the body,
these types of vaccines typically send instructions to cells in the body.
It gets the cells to produce antigen proteins
that are specific to the virus it’s designed to defeat.
These instructions are in the form of RNA or DNA,
the molecules that contain the code for building proteins.
Scientists say this process cuts down on development time
because they don’t have to grow the whole virus.
Plus, once scientists identify and create the instructions for one virus
they can tweak those instructions
to make a vaccine for a similar virus.
– So think of the backbone as a cassette player
and the new virus sequence of our target, like from the new coronavirus,
that sequence that we design,
and think of it as a new cassette tape,
so we can just slot it in.
– You can slot in new virus antigens.
– [Jason] Melanie Saville is the Director of Vaccine Research and Development
at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.
CEPI is a global partnership
that was launched at Davos in 2017.
– We were actually formed specifically
to look at this type of situation.
– [Jason] In this situation, the emergence of a new coronavirus,
CEPI’s funding several teams from around the world
that Saville says are each independently working
from the platform model.
The sort of technologies that we are looking at,
some of which are really quite pioneering,
can really move very quickly.
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[Jason] Three of the candidates are in a category called
nucleic acid vaccines.
One of those candidates is Moderna,
which is working with the NIH.
They’re developing a vaccine on a platform
that uses a part of the virus’ genetic code
called messenger RNA or mRNA,
so again, unlike the conventional approach,
with mRNA vaccine platforms,
it’s our own body’s cells rather than lab techs
that produce the antigen proteins
that are like the ones made by the coronavirus.
Your immune system then will be stimulated
and develop antibodies to the virus
so that when you see it again,
it can immediately recognize the virus
and prevent you from becoming sick.
– [Jason] More and more people are becoming sick from the novel coronavirus.
As the race for a viable vaccine continues,
public health officials don’t know
how bad the situation will be by the time they hope
to have a vaccine ready for widespread distribution.
– Normally, vaccines would take years to get into the clinic,
so the sort of technologies
that we are looking at can really move very quickly.
So an example of that is getting
from identifying the sequence of the virus to developing a vaccine,
doing all of the pre-clinical testing, manufacturing,
and getting into the clinic in 16 weeks.
– [Jason] So, around four months.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, that process took 20 months.
Experts say if one of the four teams CEPI is funding is successful,
it would be a watershed moment for human health.
– These are very promising candidates,
but they’re still quite early days.
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