German company begins human trials of coronavirus vaccine

The headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany [File: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters]
The headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany [File: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has begun testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus on volunteers.

BioNTech, which is working with the US-based Pfizer, said on Wednesday that 12 participants of a clinical trial in Germany received doses of the vaccine candidate BNT162 since April 23.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are racing to deliver a vaccine for the virus that has caused a pandemic and led to more than 215,000 deaths worldwide and sickened at least three million people.

BioNTech said in a statement that in the next step, it will begin increasing the dose of BNT162 in a trial involving about 200 participants aged 18 to 55.

The company said it expects to receive regulatory approval to begin trials in the United States soon.

While a safe, effective vaccine is still more than a year away, researchers are rushing to repurpose existing drugs and non-drug therapies as well as testing promising experimental drugs that were already in clinical trials.

Even moderately effective therapies or combinations could dramatically reduce the crushing demand on hospitals and intensive care units, changing the nature of the risk the new pathogen represents to populations and healthcare systems.

New drugs, together with new diagnostics, antibody tests, patient- and contact-tracing technologies, disease surveillance and other early-warning tools, mean the anticipated next “wave” of the global pandemic does not have to be nearly as bad as the first.

As many as 100 potential COVID-19 candidate vaccines are now under development by biotech and research teams around the world, and at least five of these are in preliminary testing in people in what are known as Phase 1 clinical trials.

Scientists in the United Kingdom began clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on April 23 as other vaccine developers across Europe stepped up work on experimental shots.

The team at the UK’s Oxford University dosed the first volunteers in a trial of their vaccine – called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19” – while Italy’s ReiThera, Germany’s Leukocare and Belgium’s Univercells said they were working together on another potential shot and aimed to start trials in a few months.

The UK’s GSK and France’s Sanofi have announced a similar agreement to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, with trials starting in the second half of the year.

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