Made-in-Vietnam COVID-19 vaccine makes significant progress

Friday, 2020-06-26 15:38:44
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Vabiotech researchers taking mice blood samples to assess immune response antibodies after injection.
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NDO – A made-in-Vietnam vaccine against COVID-19 is making advanced progress, signalling the imminent completion of the whole project, meaning a possible vaccine may not be far away.

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Developed by the State-owned Company for Vaccine and Biological Production No. 1 (Vabiotech) in cooperation with Bristol University in the UK, the project, which is supported by Vingroup Innovation Foundation – VinIF (under the conglomerate Vingroup), has seen a speedy research process. It is more meaningful as the world is at risk of a second COVID-19 wave.

Two months ahead of schedule

One day in mid-June, Master Mac Van Trong at the Vabiotech received a message from Dr. Do Tuan Dat, the President of Vabiotech, saying that the research project carried out by Trong and his colleagues "has worked” and the candidate vaccine has relatively high immunity.

For Trong and his team, this result is "vital", showing that the project for a possible COVID-19 vaccine they are pursuing is on the right track and has shown initial results. "Our four sleepless months have paid off," said a Vabiotech researcher.

Earlier, on May 15 and 29, two batches of serum samples taken from 50 mice injected with the candidate COVID-19 vaccine were sent to the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) for assessment. By comparative injection with the inactivated wild-type virus in mice, the NIHE determined that these serum samples gave antibody responses, some of which were relatively high. This is the basis for its development into a complete vaccine," Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Le Khanh Hang, Deputy Head of the NIHE’s Virology Department, said.

Given this result, Vabiotech has now passed two-months of progress in the first phase of the project, which is also the most important stage in the research and production of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the next stage, the candidate vaccine will be developed into a complete vaccine, which is stable and suitable for human use. The team will also build a commercial production process that can facilitate mass production for millions or even tens of millions of doses.

Though not overly hastened at the news that a range of countries have started testing their COVID-19 vaccines on humans, Vietnamese scientists are also really racing against time, especially in the context of the world facing the risk of a second coronavirus wave. According to domestic researchers, Vietnam has not set a goal of taking the lead in the race but will develop the vaccine by inheriting the world’s experience in dealing with this very new SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Taking a blood sample from a lab mouse.

"It would takes 9-12 months to produce a complete vaccine, but we are working hard to shorten this," Trong said. "However, compared to the 10-year average in normal vaccine production, the 18-24 month period to develop a possible COVID-19 vaccine must be seen as a significant achievement."

According to Vabiotech's representative, this project is not only limited to the production of the vaccine that the world is expecting, but also extends to the bigger goal of increasing vaccine' autonomy for Vietnam, especially concerning pandemic vaccines. If there is a new strain of coronavirus in humans in the future, with the technology available at hand, researchers just need to "assemble" the genome of the new virus strain to create a new vaccine.

“In the A/H1N influenza pandemic, it was hard to buy a single dose of vaccine, not to mention buying millions of doses. Therefore, the vaccine creation initiative of a country is very important,” explained Trong.

Two studies on SARS-CoV-2 sponsored by VinIF post good results

After ten years of participating in and leading major projects on the research into and production of vaccines, with Trong, this project is the most special. The reason is not only because of the "virus of the century" engulfing the world in a global pandemic but also due to the unprecedented difficulties that his research team has experienced.

The project started smoothly thanks to "urgent" funding from the VinIF in response to the global pandemic. Many research phases of the project were carried out at the lab in the UK’s University of Bristol from the beginning of February in order to speed up the progress.

However, the project was almost halted while Europe was in lockdown, forcing all research activities to be halted. As taking advanced anticipation for this risk, the team worked almost 24 hours a day to complete to plan. Fortunately, the team members left the UK just before the country’s blockade and arrived in Vietnam just before the closing of all international air routes in late March.

Master Mac Van Trong analysing the expression of COVID-19 S gene at the laboratory of the School of Biochemistry in the University of Bristol (UK).

“We have been under great pressure. The biggest worry is that the samples cannot be transferred to Vietnam, because if so, the study results in nearly two months would be down the drain,” Trong said about this, the most difficult time for his team.

To compensate for the 14-day interruption due to compulsory quarantine after returning home from abroad, the team continued to work with 1-day intensity equal to two days. Vabiotech's lab became an "isolation room for research" of scientists who returned from the UK. Thanks to that, just a month later, the candidate vaccine was completed for injection on mice.

The technology used by Vabiotech in the production of the vaccine against the disease that has now infected nearly 9 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of nearly 500,000, is viral vector technology, instead of traditional inactivated or live-attenuated vaccine technologies. This is a new, versatile technology, with high production efficiency and independence on the culture of the entire pathogen that is suitable for pandemic vaccines’ production.

“Thanks to the funding, our company has upgraded the Bioreactor cell culture system, which was installed nearly 10 years ago. This new generation model is more adaptable to the virus vector technology that we are using,” said Dr. Do Tuan Dat, President of Vabiotech.

According to the author of many research studies on made-in-Vietnam vaccine development, the Vabiotech project could be accelerated due to the "benefit" from the results of a research project on the epidemiological characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 that the NIHE is carrying out. This is also an urgent project sponsored by VinIF as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Thanks to this "decoding" information, Vietnam can still control the situation despite many countries around the world being extremely tardy in preparing for the most dangerous epidemic in the early 21st century.

“Vietnam has excelled as a global bright spot in disease prevention and control. We expect more successes, including the made-in-Vietnam COVID-19 vaccine," Dr. Dat added.