BOSTON: US biotech firm Moderna said it has shipped an experimental coronavirus vaccine to US government researchers just six weeks after it started working on the immunisation.
Moderna said in a statement that the first batch of its novel coronavirus vaccine, called mRNA-1273, has been sent to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Initial trials of the potential vaccine could begin in April, but the process of testing and approvals would last at least a year.
The shares in the company, located near Boston, spiked 30 percent between Monday and Tuesday’s trading sessions, beating out a plunging market. Investors are pulling gains from soaring biotech stocks as the race for coronavirus drugs intensifies.
Moderna said the first vials of the experimental vaccine would be used in a planned Phase 1 study in the United States, which typically involves testing a vaccine on a small number of healthy humans.
NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said that a clinical trial could start by the end of April, the “first step” in potentially making a vaccine available for use. The vaccine would, however, not be available for use for at least a year or 18 months.
The two doses of the vaccine would be tested on volunteers to see if it produces an immune response that protects against the virus. However, further testing and regulatory approvals would be needed before the vaccine could be deployed widely.
Health officials and pharmaceutical companies around the world are working at a breakneck pace to identify treatments or a vaccine to help fight the coronavirus.
Moderna is not the only drug company hoping to find an immunisation for the virus. Pharma giants Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline are working on vaccines as well as government scientists.
Shares in Gilead (GILD) gained nearly 5 percent on Monday after the World Health Organisation said that one of its drugs, remdesivir, is showing signs of helping to treat the coronavirus.
While the experimental vaccine developed by Moderna remains unproven, the speed at which it was created represents a breakthrough. The vaccine was developed within 42 days of the company obtaining genetic information on the coronavirus.
It took researchers about 20 months to start human tests of the vaccine for SARS, an older strain of coronavirus.