KEY POINTS

  • The vaccine named Ad5-nCoV was developed at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences by PLA's Major General Chen Wei and vaccine company CanSino Biologics
  • The PLA maintains a catalog of special drugs and if Ad5-nCoV gets added to the list, it can be used in the case of a major outbreak
  • Vaccines using alternate technologies are also being explored in China

People across the globe are hoping to get back to a sense of normal despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging on in many parts of the world. The quickest way to bring things back to normal is to produce a vaccine to immunize the world's population. Laboratories are racing to be the first to produce the vaccine and one of them is a China-based vaccine company that has teamed with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They are the first to earn approval for the military use of an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

The project is being led the PLA’s Major General Chen Wei and vaccine company CanSino Biologics. An announcement made Monday claimed the hoped-for vaccine had passed two phases of clinical trials and was safe to use. It also added there was a “relatively high” immune response to the antigen.

Clinical development is a three or four-phase process:

  • The first phase is to give the trial vaccine to small groups of people
  • In phase 2, the clinical study is expanded, and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) like those for whom the new vaccine is intended
  • Phase 3 is a widespread trial where the candidate vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety
  • Many vaccines will move on to a 4th phase, where formal, ongoing studies continue after the vaccine is approved and licensed

The name of the vaccine is Ad5-nCoV. It was jointly developed at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences and was based on a vaccine previously developed by Chen for Ebola that never went into mass production. It is currently approved for the military for one year, but not for civilian use yet. 

The PLA maintains a catalog of special drugs and if Ad5-nCoV gets added to the list, it can be used in the case of a major outbreak.

The “winner” of the COVID-19 vaccine race stands to be greatly rewarded financially and be renowned for providing the first preventative treatment for the disease that is linked to a half million deaths and over 10 million infections. For that reason, Ad5-nCoV has a host of competitors across the globe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported clinical trials are underway for 17 vaccine candidates, seven of which have been developed in China. At least one vaccine is being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is in its phase three studies.

Vaccines using alternate technologies are also being explored in China. The PLA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are conducting phase 1 trials on mRNA vaccines. A conventional vaccine can take months to go from the lab to the infected patient. They also involve growing the virus in large quantities which poses a bio-hazard risk.

The RNA vaccines require only a small amount of the target virus used for gene sequencing and once this is done the sequence can be sent electronically via computer to anywhere capable of synthesizing the vaccine. This cuts the production time from months to as little as one week.

The world may have to wait as the vaccine race continues, but the spread of the disease has not stopped as new cases continue to surge in the United States and India, possibly with mutated forms of the original virus that emerged out of Wuhan, China.

Well over 100 labs around the world are scrambling to come up with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus Well over 100 labs around the world are scrambling to come up with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus Photo: AFP / Mladen ANTONOV