Abu Dhabi: The world’s first Phase III trials for an inactivated vaccine against coronavirus have already begun in the UAE, with an increasing number of residents showing their interest in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the vaccine itself has been developed by Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm China National Biotec Group, the trials are being run in the UAE by G42 Healthcare.
So far, more than 10,000 people have registered to participate in the trials, the administrative and medical portions of which are being carried out by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha). The process is being overseen by the Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DoH) and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention.
But G42 remains a critical part of the equation to ascertain the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine that has already passed the first two phases of trials in China. In June, as part of the first announcements of the trials in the UAE, the DoH said that G42 would lead the clinical trial operations in the UAE under its supervision.
Speaking to Gulf News, Ashish Koshy, chief executive officer at the company, provided more insight.
What can you tell us about G42’s management structure and ownership?
G42 Healthcare is a subsidiary of the Group 42 (G42) company, which is an advanced technology company under private management and headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
What is the exact role of G42 Healthcare in the vaccine trial process? What will G42 do and what is the exact nature of its collaboration with Sinopharm?
G42 Healthcare transcends traditional silos between technology, health care and public health.
For the Sinopharm CNBG phase III inactivated vaccine trials, G42 Healthcare will apply its technological expertise to fast and synthesised insights by deploying multiple AI (artificial intelligence) models and mobilising its team with proven capabilities in contract research organisation management, clinical sites initiations and other end-to-end programme management to support Seha and its team.
All volunteer administration will be managed by Seha and the DoH will be administrating the programme using information management platforms.
There are a lot of checks and balances that are being put into place, and very quickly, as this pandemic is vengefully taking lives all around the world.
What can you tell us about the G42 Healthcare team?
G42 Healthcare has a team of over 200 experts from various disciplines such as medicine, genomics, medical imaging, diagnostics, programme management, data science, software engineering and it’s growing at an exponential rate. We have been in the forefront in the fight against this pandemic, some of the solutions include having set up a high-throughput laboratory facility [in Masdar City] for COVID-19 and antibody testing in the UAE, and also running genomic analysis on both the virus and host genome to understand mutations.
Tell us how the G42 supercomputer will help accelerate the vaccine trials.
G42’s Artemis supercomputer is the engine behind our technology-enabled solutions. It is currently ranked No 31 in the world, and is driven by an experienced team of data scientists and engineers based in Abu Dhabi. G42 Healthcare are responsible for running clinical operations for these vaccine trials and will be leveraging our group’s technical capabilities to compute, correlate and provide fast and synthesised insights by deploying multiple AI models on the data generated during the trials to accelerate the much-awaited results.
Please tell us about the measures undertaken to protect patient data during the trial.
G42 Healthcare adheres to global standards of data protection and we are committed to the safety of patient data during the trial process. G42 Healthcare operates in compliance with the highest standard in data security, and the measures it takes to protect data is supplemented by both Seha’s data security measures as well as those of the UAE government, which is responsible for maintaining cyber security for the entire country.
Do trial volunteers receive any financial or other incentives?
Yes, volunteers receive a financial incentive to cover the travel costs and the time that they will have to commit during the trials process. However, we are seeing that this is not the motivator for volunteers to participate, but rather it is the desire to make a difference and contribute towards finding a solution to the global crisis. It is also the desire to be part of the nation’s drive to be at the forefront of finding a cure for COVID-19.
What is the value of the agreement with Sinopharm?
G42 Healthcare’s cooperation agreement with Sinopharm CNBG is to conduct the trials of the phase III inactivated vaccines in UAE. G42 Healthcare’s recent investment in the throughput laboratory for COVID-19 testing has already shown dividends if we are to take the cost into context to the role the laboratory has played in arresting the pandemic in UAE. Similarly, we are optimistic about the trials, and have various mechanisms in place in the cooperation agreement to set up a manufacturing facility in UAE to produce vaccines following the success of the trials.
If a vaccine is developed and approved, will G42 Healthcare be responsible for its manufacture in the UAE? If so, is there a plant to produce it?
Absolutely, the goal is to ensure quick access to all UAE residents, there are multiple mechanisms on ensuring early market access. However, it is early days now and we can discuss these in detail when the time is right.
What other projects has G42 Healthcare completed in the past, and what else is it currently involved in?
The UAE has been widely praised for its initial response to the pandemic — putting in place a raft of measures for testing and patient care, to support citizens, residents and businesses and strengthen the economy’s resilience. G42 has been active on the front-line of this battle against COVID-19 as part of the public-private partnership. In May 2020, G42 Healthcare launched its Health AI Platform to accelerate COVID-19 diagnosis and drug discovery.
How many facilities is G42 Healthcare running at the moment?
The phase III clinical trials are being operated by Seha who are providing facilities to ensure the trials are readily accessible to volunteers participating in the programme. Seven locations have been identified so far, initially covering Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. These include Seha facilities, and several dedicated vaccination clinics are being built at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. There are also mobile clinics for volunteers participating in the trial, and locations will be announced soon.
Would you like to share any other relevant remarks?
Since the launch, we have received an overwhelming response from the UAE community. [In fact], we received over 5,000 registrations from volunteers within the first 24 hours of announcing this initiative, and the numbers continue to grow steadily. This demonstrates the commitment of the people of the UAE to helping combat the global pandemic and their willingness to contributed to humanity.