Researchers at a San Diego lab say it took them just three hours to come up with an experimental vaccine for the coronavirus — a potential weapon against the illness which has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals is now scrambling to test the vaccine, first in animals and then in people, and if it succeeds they hope to get it to the public as soon as possible, CBS San Diego affiliate KFMB-TV reports.
Chinese scientists released the genetic sequence for the coronavirus on January 9, and researchers at Inovio and other labs around the world immediately got to work.
“We have an algorithm which we designed, and we put the DNA sequence into our algorithm and came up with the vaccine in that short amount of time,” Dr. Trevor Smith, Inovio’s director of research and development, told KFMB.
“It’s something we are trained to do, and the infrastructure is here and the expertise is in house,” Smith said. The company has also worked on vaccines for Zika virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola.
Scientists hope the vaccine will work like a piece of biological software, according to KFMB — giving the human body instructions to launch a targeted attack in the form of T-cells and antibodies against the virus.
“I think it’s every promising, and Inovio has very advanced technology that they’re using with making a DNA vaccine, which is different than our traditional vaccines,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CBS News.
So far, KFMB reports Inovio’s coronavirus vaccine has been tested on mice and guinea pigs. A clinical trial in humans could come next, perhaps by early this summer — which the company describes as record time. The scientists say they feel a sense of urgency to get an effective vaccine to the public. But even if all the testing proves successful, it would still take time to meet federal regulatory requirements and gear up for manufacturing.
The lead researcher of the company is at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sweden, working on a plan of attack against coronavirus.