India, Canada propose to collaborate with PH in their COVID-19 vaccine trials

Photo Courtesy of India Times

NEW YORK – India and Canada have expressed interest to collaborate with the Philippines in their vaccine trials, an official from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has endorsed DOST as chair of the Sub-Technical Working Group on COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

The DFA has earlier initiated coordination and exchanges of information regarding COVID-19 developments in collaboration with Philippine subsidiaries of vaccine developers, engagement with those overseas for conduct of clinical trials, utilization of multilateral efforts to ensure vaccine access and bilateral cooperation. “They are key efforts that must be pursued to ensure that a viable vaccine can be made available and accessible for Filipinos,” DFA said.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in early July, DOST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development executive director Jaime Montoya said India and Canada have sent separate proposals, coming from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and from Bharat Biotech in India that are developing the vaccines for use in the trials.

“As of now, we are talking about the clinical trial phase 3. India is heading to that phase, while Canada is about to start the phase 1,” he said.

Montoya said both countries are possible partners of the Philippines.

Scientists continue to research for a cure to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) | Photo Courtesy of Euro-Pharmaceutical Review

“We do not know yet which (of the two vaccines) would be effective, that is why the clinical trial phase 3 has to be done. If the result is good, it would gain fast registration to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of the patients’ experience and data from the clinical trial where we would participate,” Montoya said.

Montoya added that India would start the clinical trial phase 3 in September, while Canada may likely start the phase 1 in the first quarter of 2021. Clinical trials would be done in the Philippines once approved and permitted by the FDA of all countries concerned.

DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said the two countries’ interest to collaborate would provide the Philippines with more options for vaccines that can be made available in the country.

“The clinical trials will still determine which of them will be truly effective and protective,” dela Peña said.

Race to develop vaccine

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 140 teams of researchers are racing to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

Vaccines normally require years of testing and additional time to produce at scale, but scientists are hoping to develop a coronavirus vaccine within 12 to 18 months. Vaccines mimic the virus – or part of the virus – they protect against, stimulating the immune system to develop antibodies. They must follow higher safety standards than other drugs because they are given to millions of healthy people.

Vaccines are tested in several phases. In the pre-clinical stage of testing, researchers give the vaccine to animals to see if it triggers an immune response.

In phase 1, the vaccine is given to a small group of people to determine whether it is safe and to learn more about the immune response it provokes.

In phase 2, the vaccine is given to hundreds of people so scientists can learn more about its safety and correct dosage.

In phase 3, the vaccine is given to thousands of people to confirm its safety – including rare side effects – and effectiveness. These trials involve a control group that is given a placebo.

More than 140 teams of researchers are racing to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. | Photo Courtesy of Euro-Pharmaceutical Review

Vaccines in clinical trials

At present, some of the vaccines in clinical trials include:

Sinovac is developing a vaccine based on inactivated Covid-19 particles. The vaccine has shown a promising safety profile in the early stages of testing and is now moving into Phase 3 trials in Brazil.

University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
The University of Oxford vaccine is delivered via a chimpanzee virus, called the vaccine vector. The vector contains the genetic code of the protein spikes found on the coronavirus and triggers a strong immune response in the human body. The vaccine is in a combined phase 2/3 trial in the UK and has recently gone into phase 3 trials in South Africa and Brazil.

CanSino Biologics Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
The vaccine developed by Chinese company CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, a university close to the Chinese military, reportedly showed promising results in phase 2 testing, although no data from the trial has been published. In a world-first, the vaccine has now been approved for military use, but it is unclear how broadly it will be distributed.

American biotech company Moderna is developing a vaccine candidate using messenger RNA (or mRNA for short) to trick the body into producing viral proteins itself. No mRNA vaccine has ever been approved for infectious disease, and Moderna has never brought a product to market. But proponents of the vaccine say it could be easier to mass-produce than traditional vaccines.

The DFA said that it is ready to support and complement efforts of Philippine government agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It hopes to “eventually secure a viable vaccine for Filipinos in the soonest possible time,” DFA said in a statement.

It also has assisted in obtaining flight clearances and in the issuance of visas to foreign technical experts involved to COVID-19-related procurement of the Philippine Red Cross and to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) grant to DOH. It said that it is also facilitating receipt of Japan’s grant aid in support of DOH’s response to COVID-19 and other health emergencies.

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