Research Roundup: 5 finalist COVID-19 vaccines, convalescent plasma results, and new WHO access pool
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As part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump Administration has selected five top COVID-19 vaccine candidates to receive priority government support. The candidates include mRNA-1273 (Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), AZD-1222 (AstraZeneca and Oxford University), Ad26 SARS-Cov-2 (Johnson & Johnson), and candidates from Merck/IAVI and Pfizer. The Merck/IAVI and Pfizer candidates have not yet received federal funding, but as selected companies, they will receive access to government support to advance their programs. The mRNA-1273 and AZD-1222 candidates are already in phase 2 clinical trials and are expected to reach phase 3 in July. Officials anticipate that each vaccine will be tested on 30,000 individuals in phase 3 trials, some of which may take place outside the United States. An official announcement about the selection of these five companies is expected from Operation Warp Speed in the next few weeks.
Convalescent plasma, sourced from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, did not demonstrate significant effectiveness as a treatment in the first randomized clinical trial evaluating its use. The Wuhan-based trial, however, fell short of its target recruitment because of containment of the outbreak and only enrolled 103 of the 200 patients needed to demonstrate a clinically meaningful result. In the same journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health said that, though there was no significant improvement, the study gave “potentially hopeful signals” and that convalescent plasma should be tested in combination with antiviral drugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched at the end of May the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, a global project to share intellectual property and speed the research, development, and deployment of new vaccines, tests, treatments, and other health tools for COVID-19. The voluntary pool was initiated by Costa Rica and is supported mostly by low and middle-income countries and only a few high-income countries. Notably, many countries that are leading the research race for new tools, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Switzerland, have not supported C-TAP. Meanwhile, some leaders from the pharmaceutical industry have dismissed the project while other groups, such as the Médecins Sans Frontières’ Access Campaign, have given praise.