US company trials coronavirus vaccine candidate in Australia

ROD McGUIRK

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A U.S. biotechnology company began injecting a coronavirus vaccine candidate into people in Australia on Tuesday with hopes of releasing a proven vaccine this year.

Novavax will inject 131 volunteers in the first phase of the trial testing the safety of the vaccine and looking for signs of its effectiveness, the company’s research chief Dr. Gregory Glenn said.

About a dozen experimental vaccines against the coronavirus are in early stages of testing or poised to start, mostly in China, the U.S. and Europe. It’s not clear that any will prove safe and effective. But many work in different ways, and are made with different technologies, increasing the odds that at least one approach might succeed.

“We are in parallel making doses, making vaccine in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year,” Glenn told a virtual news conference in Melbourne from Novavax’ headquarters in Maryland.

Animal testing suggested the vaccine is effective in low doses. Novavax could manufacture at least 100 million doses this year and 1.5 billion in 2021, he said.

Manufacture of the vaccine, named NVX-CoV2373, was being scaled up with $388 million invested by Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations since March, Glenn said.

The results of the first phase of clinical trials in Melbourne and Brisbane are expected to be known in July, Novavax said. Thousands of candidates in several countries would then become involved in a second phase.

The trial began with six volunteers being injected with the potential vaccine in Melbourne on Tuesday, said Paul Griffin, infectious disease expert with Australian collaborator Nucleus Network.

Most of the experimental vaccines in progress aim to train the immune system to recognize the “spike” protein that studs the coronavirus’ outer surface, priming the body to react if it was exposed to the real virus. Some candidates are made using just the genetic code for that protein, and others use a harmless virus to deliver the protein-producing information. Still other vaccine candidates are more old-fashioned, made with dead, whole virus.

Novavax adds another new kind to that list, what’s called a recombinant vaccine. Novavax used genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in giant vats of insect cells in a laboratory. Scientists extracted and purified the protein, and packaged it into virus-sized nanoparticles.

“The way we make a vaccine is we never touch the virus,” Novavax told The Associated Press last month. But ultimately, “it looks just like a virus to the immune system.”

It’s the same process that Novavax used to create a nanoparticle flu vaccine that recently passed late-stage testing.

More From

  • V&A takes welcoming visitors back to new heights

    Dale Chihuly's hanging glass sculpture gets a special dusting, as the V&A in London prepares to reopen after pandemic shutdown. (Aug. 5)

  • French president traveling to Lebanon after deadly explosion

    French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to Lebanon on Thursday to offer support for the troubled country after a massive, deadly explosion that has drawn global pledges of medical and humanitarian aid. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties. France is also sending several tons of aid and emergency workers after Tuesday's explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 100 people and injured thousands.

  • Europol: global sport under "greater risk" of match fixing

    As the sporting world gradually emerge from months of coronavirus lockdowns, the European Union's agency for law enforcement cooperation is warning against the ''greater risk'' of game-fixing by criminals. In a report published Wednesday focusing on the involvement of organized crime groups in sports corruption, Europol said criminals involved in the sector have quickly adapted to the crisis to exploit new opportunities despite the virus' disruptive impact. ''Criminal business continued and it is anticipated that the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be particularly significant in the area of organized crime, including money laundering and corruption,'' Europol said.

  • Now: 2Q Earnings Snapshot

    HOUSTON (AP) _ Now Inc. (DNOW) on Wednesday reported a second-quarter loss of $30 million, after reporting a profit in the same period a year earlier. On a per-share basis, the Houston-based company said it had a loss of 27 cents. The results beat Wall Street expectations.