Scientist Xinhua Yan works in the lab at Moderna in Cambridge, Mass. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Moderna's experimental COVID-19 vaccine has induced a "robust" immune response and protection from the virus in the noses and lungs of monkeys, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday.

Why it matters: The National Institutes for Health, which co-developed the vaccine, noted in a statement Tuesday, "This is the first time an experimental COVID-19 vaccine tested in nonhuman primates has been shown to produce such rapid viral control in the upper airway."

  • Moderna president Stephen Hoge said in a statement the preclinical study shows that the vaccine candidate, code-named mRNA-1273, protected against a high dose SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in non-human primates.
  • It also "prevented pulmonary disease in all animals, further supporting the clinical advancement of mRNA-1273," Hoge added.

What they did: For the study, three groups of eight rhesus macaques received two injections of 10 or 100 micrograms of mRNA-1273 or a placebo.

  • Both doses were found to be effective in safeguarding against viral replication in the monkeys' lungs and lung inflammation. The higher dose produced the same results in the monkeys' noses.

The bottom line: While these results are promising, the real test will be the outcome of human trials, now in the late stages, which involve some 30,000 volunteers.

  • NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, "The safety data thus far looks good. But now, it's crunch time. We're trying to figure out if it actually works."

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