While people are practicing social distancing, companies and academic institutions worldwide are racing to create a coronavirus vaccine.
"The numbers that we know are at least over 35 to 40, and there is probably more than that. Every day something else is popping up, new indications of a new company either at the research stage or trying to repurpose other products, so there are numerous companies pursuing this solution," Medicago CEO Bruce Clark said.
Companies like Moderna. The Boston-based biotech firm has started human trials of its new drug. While it may be ahead, other companies, like Medicago, say different approaches will give the world important options.
“We use plants to actually produce the vaccine. We introduce a protein, they introduce a sequence that will get to a protein, so I think it’s interesting to have both approaches. This isn’t really a race against companies, this is a race against a virus, so we need all of these options because we don’t know which one is going to work the best," Clark said.
Renowned virus expert Dr. Ilaria Capua led the field in fighting the avian influenza. She has been sharing her expertise on viruses with audiences around the world for years. She expects coronavirus vaccine prototypes may be available by the fall.
"We have a lot of expertise on developing vaccines of various types, and we have pipelines of production that can be made operational in a short period of time," Dr. Capua said.
While biotech companies have different strategies for creating a vaccine, the end goal is the same.
"Given the urgency of the situation, the criticality and the unprecedented spread of this virus, I think the concern is, any company that has a potential product, or even as you're seeing some of the old products that have been around for years, they can be repurposed. I think everyone is focused on trying to find an answer because if this continues to run as it has been to this point. it’s devastating not just for one country but all of us," Clark said.
The company to reach the finish line first will be the one able to demonstrate evidence that their vaccine works and is safe.
“It will take 12 to 18 months before we will be ready to introduce it to the general public," Clark said.
Dr. Capua expects the virus to be around for some time and that people will have to adapt to dealing with it.
"I hope with herd immunity or with the vaccine or with an attenuation of the virus, its impact will greatly decrease," she said.
While the world waits for science to do its job, experts agree: The public can play its part by continuing to practice social distancing until a vaccine is created.