Research Roundup: Countries sign on to global vaccine initiative, scientists call for COVID-19 challenge trials, and a new TB test profiles drug resistance
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Seventy-five countries submitted expressions of interests to join the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, a new initiative to ensure fair and equitable vaccine distribution around the world. The 75 interested countries would fund vaccine production and distribution through their national budgets, supporting vaccine access among their own populations as well as in 90 lower-income countries through voluntary donations. COVAX would provide a guaranteed share of vaccine doses to cover 20 percent of each country’s population and act as a supplement to any deals individual countries make with vaccine manufacturers. The COVAX Facility is a key part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator vaccine pillar, which is led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI); and the World Health Organization (WHO). The initial goal of the initiative is to raise US$2 billion to buy COVID-19 vaccines, according to Gavi. More than 100 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are currently in development around the world.
In an open letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, more than 100 scientists called for human challenge trials to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. During challenge trials, healthy volunteers are given a vaccine and then exposed to a virus to evaluate whether the vaccine prevents infection. While challenge trials are controversial, they would hasten the COVID-19 vaccine development process, as conventional efficacy trials can take months longer. Signatories of the letter also noted that challenge trials are more likely to yield interpretable results. Some US lawmakers already support the idea, and WHO guidance has stated that human challenge trials are ethical when in compliance with certain criteria.
The Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND)—a GHTC member—and Cepheid, Inc., announced last week the launch of a new rapid molecular tuberculosis (TB) test that can simultaneously detect first- and second-line drug resistance. The Xpert® MTB/XDR test can provide TB drug-resistance profiles in less than 90 minutes and could be crucial in the fight against extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), the most complicated form of TB. Current methods for identifying drug-resistance profiles for XDR-TB can take up to 16 weeks to give results. Diagnosis and treatment of drug-resistant TB has been an essential part of TB elimination efforts for years. FIND and Cepheid have both conducted evaluations on the new test, and the data will undergo WHO review later this year.