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Vaccine veterans survey the path to pandemic’s end

Larry Corey
Larry Corey is a veteran virologist and past president of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. (Fred Hutch Photo / Robert Hood)

A public-private partnership called Operation Warp Speed is aiming to get multiple vaccines approved by the end of the year to protect against COVID-19 — but two veterans of the vaccine development process say there’s a long road ahead, with no wormholes in sight to reduce the travel time.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that there should be a “couple hundred million doses” of vaccines available by the start of next year.

That’s an ambitious timetable, according to John Mascola, head of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center; and Larry Corey, a virologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.coron

“I don’t think either John or I are particularly happy with Tony telling everybody that it’s here by January, but if everything goes well, that’s definitely possible,” Corey said today during a webcast presented by Fred Hutch.

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Positive news about COVID-19 vaccine lifts stocks

Massachusetts-based Moderna’s share price — and the stock market as a whole — were lifted today by the company’s encouraging report about a coronavirus vaccine trial that got its start at Seattle’s Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

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COVID-19 vaccine fast-tracked for summer trials

Moderna drug development
Moderna is pioneering a new class of medicines, including vaccines, that make use of messenger RNA. (Moderna via YouTube)

The coronavirus vaccine trial that started out in Seattle is progressing well enough to get onto Food and Drug Administration’s fast track for development, with planning well underway for the next two phases of testing.

Seattle’s Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute kicked off the Phase I clinical trial, which focuses on ensuring that the vaccine is safe for humans.

The first participants got their shots in mid-March, and last month, the trial was expanded to Emory University in Atlanta and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Vaccine Research Clinic in Bethesda, Md. NIAID is funding the trial, and the vaccine was developed by Moderna Therapeutics.

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It’s time to join forces for COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccine development
Multiple COVID-19 vaccines are in development. (Johnson & Johnson via YouTube)

Unprecedented collaborations involving the biotech industry and government agencies are urgently needed to develop and produce the billions of doses of vaccine that will be needed to stop the coronavirus pandemic, four public-health pioneers declare.

The experts behind the call to action, published today by the journal Science, include Larry Corey, a past president and director of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a professor in its vaccine and infectious disease division.

Corey’s co-authors are Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; John Mascola, director of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center; and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

Their essay holds up a public-private partnership known as Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Innovations and Vaccines, or ACTIV, as a model for the collaboration that’ll be needed to address the coronavirus challenge.

“We’re experiencing a series of unprecedented events with a disease that has spread globally and infected more people in a shorter time than any other infection in modern times,” Corey said in a news release. “In order to overcome the challenges in front of us, we each need to bring nothing short of our absolute best.”

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Bill Gates: We’ll need 7 billion doses of vaccine

Bill Gates has been big on vaccines since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but in a new blog posting, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist says the only way to end the pandemic for good is to offer a vaccine to almost all of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants.

That’s big.

“We’ve never delivered something to every corner of the world before,” Gates notes.

It’s especially big considering that a vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for widespread use, and that it may take as long as a year to 18 months to win approval and start distribution.

Some companies are aiming for a faster pace: Oxford University says its vaccine candidate has shown encouraging results in trials with rhesus macaque monkeys, and if it clears accelerated human trials, a few million doses could be available by September.

Meanwhile, the White House is pressing an initiative called Operation Warp Speed that Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, could result in hundreds of millions of vaccine doses being manufactured by January.

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Researchers halt ‘ineffective’ HIV vaccine trial

HIV trial volunteer
A participant in the South African HIV vaccine trial receives a shot at a clinic. (NIAID via YouTube)

A three-year-long clinical trial of an HIV vaccine in South Africa, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by a consortium headquartered at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been put on hold because the vaccine was judged ineffective.

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Protein designers get a boost for flu vaccine project

David Baker
David Baker heads the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design. (UW Medicine Photo)

The University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design has won an $11.3 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to cook up a public health breakthrough: a universal flu vaccine.

This marks the San Francisco-based nonprofit group’s first gift to a research effort in the Seattle area, and one of its largest gifts to date. Open Phil’s main funders are Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and philanthropist Cari Tuna, a husband-and-wife team.

The grant will accelerate the institute’s efforts to advance the field of protein design and put it to use in real-world applications.

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