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COVID-19 – an o2h Ventures perspective


  • By Andrew Sullivan
  • News

The early stage EIS and/or SEIS investment fund backing biotech therapeutic and related AI opportunities speaks to vaccine professionals.


 

Firstly, we would like to express our sympathies to the families of the thousands of people who have now died from COVID-19. The markets are currently in turmoil regarding the potential economic impact and governments are hurriedly taking radical steps to curtail the spread of the virus. We hope that the biotech and pharma industry can play its part in developing a vaccine or drug as quickly as possible.

In the UK, we have stellar academic and biotech groups that have or are developing breakthrough vaccines and so we thought we would seek expert opinions on how quickly a vaccine could be developed.

Dr Eddy Littler, COO at ReViral is an expert in virology and has a track record in the development of antiviral therapeutics. ReViral currently has a vaccine for RSV in Phase II clinical trials.

“The identification of a new human coronavirus COVID-19 has stimulated an interest in identifying antivirals or vaccines. Clinical trials have started in China to test off-the-shelf inhibitors the most promising of which is the Gilead drug Sovaldi which has been shown previously to be active against both Ebola and SARS in the laboratory. Several companies are screening their compound collections against coronaviruses to identify new leads however even with accelerated approval these new agents will take several years (>4) to be demonstrated to be safe and effective in the clinic. The development of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 would be highly attractive however research has only started to identify protective antigens; select suitable methods of delivery and to show the vaccine to be safe and effective. We should all remember that respiratory syncytial virus is responsible for the death of over 200,000 babies and adults each year and yet despite efforts to develop a vaccine for over 30 years, to date, there is no vaccine that has been shown to be effective beyond phase 2 clinical studies.”

We also managed to get an opinion from Neil French, a Professor of Infectious Diseases and Global Health and Hon Consultant Infectious Diseases Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust.

“It is possible to develop a vaccine ready for GMP manufacture in approx. 4 months, with 6-12 months being a more realistic timescale. However there is a high risk that the vaccine will not be sufficiently immunogenic and multiple parallel designs could be pursued to mitigate this, which increases costs. How long to get such a vaccine to market? If you have a proven platform and construct pH1N1 influenza vaccines were ready in 12 months, but look at Ebola as a wholly novel pathogen the answer is several years and this is more likely for COVID-19.”

We also asked Graham Richards, a former professor at Oxford University and the Chairman and Founder of Oxford Drug Design his views which he succinctly summarised in one line “To find one, months, but to get into use, at least a year.”

These are of course just three professional opinions, but it does give an indication that this may not be as quick to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as the 3-9 months I have read in various media reports and reality is that we could be several years away before we find an efficacious treatment. We hope a thriving UK biotech industry can contribute to this human health scare.

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