Mar 18, 2020 - Health

We're still in the early days of coronavirus vaccine research

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Moderna has moved incredibly quickly to begin testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus in U.S. patients. The biotech company went from taking the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus to manufacturing its first batch of vials in less than a month.

Reality check: Best-case scenario, a vaccine could be ready for production by next year — but that's assuming the drug proves to be both safe and effective, which is completely unknown right now.

What they're saying: My colleague Dan Primack and I spoke with Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel to understand the timing of this very fluid situation.

  • After this phase 1 trial and a potential phase 2 trial over the summer, Bancel believes the vaccine can begin a phase 3 trial by this fall.
  • A phase 3 trial would enroll at least 3,000 people, and if data shows the vaccine is safe and effective for that sample, the FDA could approve it.
  • Anthony Fauci of the NIH has said it's a possibility there could be a novel coronavirus vaccine in 2021, "and I would agree with that," Bancel said.

Yes, but: There's no data yet. It's a scientific feat to get to this stage so quickly, but that will matter a lot less if the vaccine doesn't work well or if people suffer serious side effects.

  • "We cannot make any mistakes on safety," Bancel said.

The intrigue: Moderna, which uses a complex gene-based technology that changes how cells function, has a lot of experience researching vaccines — it has done some animal testing on a vaccine for a related coronavirus, MERS.

  • But none of Moderna's vaccines have led to federal approvals yet.

The bottom line: The global desire to find something to prevent another COVID-19 pandemic should not kick aside the need for scientific evidence.

Go deeper

Scientists used CRISPR inside an adult patient's body for the first time

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For the first time, scientists have used the gene-editing technique CRISPR inside the body of an adult patient, in an effort to cure congenital blindness.

Why it matters: CRISPR has already been used to edit cells outside a human body, which are then reinfused into the patient. But the new study could open the door to using gene editing to treat incurable conditions that involve cells that can't be removed from the body, like Huntington's disease and dementia.

Go deeperArrowMar 4, 2020 - Health

Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from coronavirus

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that models suggest the coronavirus will infect millions of Americans and could kill 100,000–200,000, though he stressed that the projections are "such a moving target."

Why it matters: Fauci has been the coronavirus task force's most outspoken advocate for emergency social distancing measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, sometimes contradicting President Trump's more optimistic outlook.

What the U.S. can learn from other countries in the coronavirus fight

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Note: Cases are shown on a logarithmic scale; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The countries that have most successfully fended off the novel coronavirus have mainly done it with a combination of new technology and old-school principles.

Why it matters: There's a lot the U.S. can learn from the way other countries have handled this global pandemic — although we may not be able to apply those lessons as quickly as we'd like.

Go deeperArrowMar 28, 2020 - Health