Drugmakers are developing coronavirus vaccines in record time — but it will still be months before one is available

  • Drug companies are working on developing a coronavirus vaccine at record speed.
  • But a safe, FDA-approved solution may still be several months away. US health officials have said it will take at least 12 months to know if any vaccine works.
  • And the question of who will pay for vaccine development is still unanswered.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

Vaccines typically take multiple years to develop.

But when it comes to the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic, drug companies don’t have that kind of time.

Luckily, there are reasons to be hopeful that a vaccine against the coronavirus could be developed in record time.

Leading the way is Moderna, which is developing a vaccine at a record pace.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are about 40 coronavirus vaccines being developed right now.

Leading the way is Moderna, a biotechnology company from Massachussetts that has managed to bring a vaccine candidate into a clinical trial in about two months. That’s record-breaking pace – for comparison, it took about 20 months to bring a vaccine candidate for SARS into human testing during the outbreak that started in 2002.

Moderna specialises in messenger RNA, or mRNA, therapies, which instruct patients’ bodies to produce immune responses to diseases. When injected with a vaccine that uses mRNA, immune cells can process it and begin targeting the virus for destruction.

“Moderna just injects genetic instructions that has your own cells create copies of the protein, the antibodies that can fight against the virus,” Business Insider healthcare reporter Andy Dunn said.

However, there are no approved mRNA vaccines on the market, Dunn said, so Moderna’s unproven technology will have to be tested in real time against the virus.

Several other companies hope to start clinical trials soon, including Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi.

In the coming months, several other drug companies hope to start clinical trials on potential coronavirus vaccines.

Among the drugmakers working on one are two pharmaceutical giants, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. Johnson & Johnson is looking at starting a clinical trial in November, while Sanofi is targeting a date in early 2021, Dunn said.

“They have proven technology. They have done this many times. They have the resources of Big Pharma to pump out this to a mass market of hundreds of millions of people if needed,” Dunn said. “So those approaches are also worth watching, and they’re moving as fast as they can on that front.”

But the question of who will pay for vaccine development is still unanswered.

“Vaccine development is really expensive,” Dunn said. “And with infectious diseases, it’s hard to know the return on investment for these companies.”

Dunn said it’s worth considering the case of Merck, the pharmaceutical company that developed the first FDA-approved vaccine for the Ebola virus.

“That took several years of clinical trials at unprecedented scale,” he said. “Merck had to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to get this over the finish line. And it’s essentially a net loss for the company financially.”

Philanthropic groups may be the answer. One group that may be able to help is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But so far, we still don’t know the scope of how much vaccine development will cost and who will pay for it – especially in the case of smaller companies like Moderna, Dunn said.

“If one of those vaccines is found to be safe and effective, how can a small biotech scale that up to deliver a vaccine to hundreds of millions of people?” he said.

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