- In April, the WHO announced 3 leading “vaccine candidates”
- In mid-May, the number has reached 10, and now in crucial final stages of human testing
- Top scientists are engaged in a global vaccine sprint
- Researchers in China, US, Canada, the UK, India and Italy have taken up the challenge to develop a COVID-19 shot
- This healthy 'coopetition', if managed well, could result in life getting back to normal again
Dubai: The world’s top scientists are sprinting through clinical trials at “warp-speed” for a vaccine against COVID-19.
For now, it appears that only a vaccine can curb a second or third-wave of coronavirus infections — and presumably help us return to some semblance of normality, say experts.
But that’s just the side story. There's a bigger, subtler battle ahead: A tight match between the world’s powers on overdrive to develop the much-desired antiviral agent.
Like man's first shot for the moon in the 1960s, the first anti-coronavirus shot is now a matter of national pride and honour, especially for countries in the running to complete the four-stage hurdles. The odds we see are in favour of humanity.
First, the numbers: there are currently 115 candidate vaccines, according to the journal Nature.
115number identified by the journal 'Nature' in terms of candidate vaccines in development, with several organisations having initiated Phase I-II safety and efficacy studies in human subjects.
In April, the WHO announced 3 leading “vaccine candidates”, including 2 from China.
On Sunday (May 17), the number of advanced candidates has gone up to 10, those that reached the crucial final stages of human testing. Five are from China. The rest are from other countries.
Down here below, the world is now cowering and in the dark over an unseen enemy. A vaccine is a leap for the common good, one giant shot for mankind.
Amidst this global vaccine slugfest, a desirable outcome of this marathon scientific work on both sides of a widening divide is not guaranteed on the back of fast-growing East-West rivalries.
But what's clear is that the world today needs a safe, effective vaccine.
And amidst the feverish clinical trials, it's all the more important to do something basic: stimulate immunity, to allow the human body to fight this deadly pathogen, if it tries, as expected, to strike again.
The WHO defines a clinical trial as “any research study that prospectively assigns human participants or groups of humans to one or more interventions in a health-related issue to evaluate the effects on health outcomes.”
Clinical trials may also be referred to as “interventional trials”, where interventions include but are not restricted to drugs, cells and other biological products, surgical procedures, radiologic procedures, devices, behavioural treatments, process-of-care changes, preventive care, etc.
Heroic efforts needed — but also clarity
It’s becoming increasingly clear that nothing short of a collective heroic effort is needed to come up with a vaccine that would prevent a possible second or third "wave” of infectious outbreak that may sweep the world from as early as October-November.
Much about the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains unknown — what does "atypical pneumonia" diagnosis mean? Is that even the correct diagnosis? Or is it a immune hyper reaction that destroys the cells where the virus thrives?
Do some cases manifest thromboembolism (obstruction of a blood vessel by a blood clot)? And what’s with "COVID-19 toes"? What's the actual case fatality rate?
The numbers change daily, while many questions remain unanswered, though there’s admittedly a huge body of knowledge already gathered from clinical studies/autopsies done or in progress.
The volume of research on COVID-19 is staggering. According to the latest WHO listing (May 17, 2020), there are currently 1,114 COVID-19 studies in its database.
The list, updated weekly, monitors their progress. The WHO’s International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP) is one example of open science, with information coming from clinical trials maintained by other countries or regions of the world.
Yet, despite the flood of studies, and extensive tests, it's clarity that's now needed. There's never been a better time for the medical community to hyper-collaborate, slice a much bigger patient database, and agree on the diagnosis and treatment, even as we all wait for a vaccine, which may come sooner, or later.
Warp speed, with 115 vaccine candidates
If any one of the 115 COVID-19 vaccines gets ahead, with a good safety and efficacy profile, the world would presumably be a better place.
Science, however, cautioned that about half of these efforts involve companies or organisations who don’t really have enough resources to see it through the laborious trials.
As of May 11, WHO named eight candidates — four of which are Chinese companies — that have entered small trials in humans, as reported by Science.
Not to be outdone, the US has unveiled a "warp speed" operations team to challenge existing vaccine development protocols and speed up the process.
Here's a taste of the top 'vaccine candidates', so far:
- This novel coronavirus has changed our common life forever. It has precipitated hyper-nationalism, mutual suspicion and closed borders.
- Today, as vaccine research gathers momentum, the key global actors are hurling accusations and counter-accusations.
- After years of globalism, the mood has flipped to the other side, where going it alone seems to be the new flavour of the decade, possibly falling into a "Thucydides Trap"..
- Science advances human civilisation; a deadly cocktail of overbearing pride (of individuals, ideologues and nations) can take us all back to the Stone Age, or cataclysm
- Science is incremental. It’s the job of experts to explain the intricacies of their work to ordinary people and their leaders, in order to have informed decision and avoid misuse.
- Science cannot be pursued for its own sake, founded on egotism and I-challenge-everyone kind of arrogance. Or profit motive.
- Otherwise, then it won’t be long before science turns into an agent from the gates of hell.
- Science should not mislead. Going forward, whatever research is done on viruses, it must be an open book, through a system of peer reviews and above-board discussions. Scientists should not be muzzled, threatened or simply disappear.
- Feelings and alliances change. But certain truths remain. Here’s one undeniable fact: this virus is here to stay, says WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan.
- Either we live (or die) with it, or deal with it. Thus, the importance of developing a vaccine.
Allison cited an entire string of war stories, and the triggers, starting with the Peloponesian War in 431 BC (whose story was written by Thucydides), to the World War II.
The "Thucydides Trap" theory states that as a rising power (like China) challenges the dominance of an established power (like the US), that dominant power is likely to "respond with violence".
Is an open war between the US and China, perhaps triggered by corona, inevitable?
Allison's fascinating insight into the history of wars offers a model, a theory, for predicting when warfare is likely. But humans are reasonable. Knowing this "trap" can also make us think of ways to propose alternative solutions to prevent an open conflict.
The whole point of identifying a trap is to avoid it.
Where do we go from here?
The research community is now motivated by a heightened sense of larger-than-life mission, which is a good thing.
If the outcome of their extensive labour works, then it works: For the benefit of all, with no regard for creed or colour. Without a vaccine, we are ALL the same — two eyes, covered nose and mouth all year round.
Science liberates: It transcends ideologies and rivalries of the moment.
Developing a COVID-19 vaccine is quite unlike a rocket-driven shot for the moon — a celestial object that just happens to smile at us in its fullness each month, a natural satellite of planet Earth.
Down here below, the world is now cowering and in the dark over an unseen enemy. A vaccine may then be a leap for the common good, one giant shot for mankind.