Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at National Institutes of Health
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
Several companies have been racing to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, and research efforts are moving faster than ever before.
Moderna, which just entered its phase two trial for its coronavirus vaccine, is one of the companies on the forefront of developing such a vaccine.
On May 18, Moderna released preliminary data on phase I trials of its coronavirus vaccine, putting the company on headlines and skyrocketing its stock prices.
Though National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci says the results are “very promising,” he told STAT News that he didn’t like how the company jumped on sharing the early data.
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Last month, when Moderna released preliminary data on a phase 1 trial of its coronavirus vaccine, the early signs of success made headlines and sent the company’s stock price soaring.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that though the initial data from the company looks “very promising from the neutralizing antibody standpoint,” he disapproved of how the company jumped to share the news before it had more data.
“I didn’t like that,” Fauci told STAT News’ Helen Branswell in an interview published Monday. “What we would have preferred to do, quite frankly, is to wait until we had the data from the entire Phase 1 — which I hear is quite similar to the data that they showed — and publish it in a reputable journal and show all the data.”
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The company, Fauci said, instead got excited when they saw the positive data and put out a press release without waiting for more information.
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Moderna, which is partnering with the National Institutes of Health to develop its mRNA vaccine, said on May 18 that it had measured antibodies in eight of its vaccine study participants.
The results, Fauci said, were enough to warrant cautious optimism. That’s because they showed not just binding antibody, or antibodies that would bind to the virus particle but wouldn’t necessarily affect the virus’s ability to infect the body, but “antibody that was neutralizing live virus, at levels that you would predict would be protective — if in fact neutralizing antibody, which is a reasonable assumption, is going to be a correlate of immunity.”
Moderna is now moving onto the second phase of its clinical trials. Fauci said that other companies moving along quickly are likely to also show promising results.
“The Pfizer one is very similar to Moderna’s,” Fauci said, referring to Pfizer’s work with BioNTech on four variations of a coronavirus vaccine. “It’s an mRNA vaccine. I’m sure that Pfizer is going to get results that are as good as the Moderna vaccine. There’s no reason to believe one is going to be any different than the other.”
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Fauci said he remains optimistic about the 12 to 18 month timeline for a widely distributed coronavirus vaccine to be made available. There have been others, including Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who have pushed back on this timeframe. Merck joined the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine in late May. Fauci told STAT that he’s “not very concerned about the timetable,” because drugmakers will not move onto the next step of vaccine development until they’re fairly sure the current results point to a “successful efficacy signal.”
This, he said, is in part due to the enormous amount of capital that is required in developing a vaccine. Fauci says the timeline is “aspirational, but it’s certainly doable. That being said, just because we get a vaccine in that timeframe doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be an effective one.
“The only thing that’s the big unknown to me is that, is it going to be effective? I think we could do it within the time frame that I’ve outlined. But there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be effective,” Fauci said.
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