Drug companies around the world, including New York–based Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE in Germany, are collaborating to develop a vaccine for 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The companies have announced that the first stage of their human trial testing began on Monday. If successful, they say, the vaccines may be available for emergency use to combat the pandemic starting in September.
The study is using healthy volunteers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, among other American medical centers. By the second stage of the study, volunteers will be injected with the vaccine, which uses a technique based on RNA, a type of genetic material that provides instructions for cells to build proteins. For the treatment, a specially designed version of RNA will be used to instruct cells to produce the virus’s distinct spike proteins without harming the human host in the process.
Since this coronavirus often uses this spike protein as a key to unlock and take over lung cells, this type of vaccine can potentially train a healthy immune system to produce infection-fighting antibodies. In addition, this method of vaccine development is faster to produce than conventional vaccines.
“Vaccines are given to healthy people to keep them healthy, so they have to be very, very safe,” says Mark J. Mulligan, MD, director of NYU Langone’s Vaccine Center and the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology.
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