Phase two trial to begin; vaccine by end of year?
When The Tribune first reported in the March 23 Tribune about a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that may be available by this time next year, not many people had heard of the small biotech company that appeared to be first in line to develop the vaccine.
Not many thought it would be possible either.
Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., is known in the venture capital world as a “biotech unicorn,” a privately held startup company that is 10 years old and valued at $1 billion that, like the mythical unicorn, is a rare success in the business world.
The buzz in the venture capital world was that Moderna has been developing coronavirus vaccines for years and had been preparing for a 2020 ‘pandemic test’ to see how quickly it could design, develop and mass manufacture a global vaccine long before anyone had heard of COVID-19.
When The Tribune story appeared, Moderna was able to be the first to go to clinical trials. And now the company has released its early phase-one trial data: Healthy patients who received those first doses of the vaccine appear to have generated antibody responses to the virus.
Moderna emphasized that this first trial is an early snapshot of a small sample size focused on eight healthy volunteers, ages 18-55, who safely tolerated the vaccine with no life-threatening side effects. The volunteers made antibodies that were tested in infected cells in the lab and were able to stop the virus from reproducing, according to the company.
A phase-two trial will start soon with 600 people in two more age groups, 55-70 and 71 and older. The final phase-three trial, the company says, will involve thousands of healthy people and begin by July.
If those trials go well, Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, says a vaccine could become available by the end of the year or early 2021.
Dozens of other companies in the United States, Europe and China are in the race to produce vaccines, including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKoline and Gilead.
Moderna is partnering with the National Institutes of Health and a half-billion American taxpayer dollars have been invested in the clinical trials.
To learn more about Moderna, visit modernatx.com.