US company trials coronavirus vaccine candidate in Australia

A U.S. biotechnology company has begun injecting a coronavirus vaccine candidate into people in Australia with hopes of releasing a proven vaccine this year

Novavax will inject 131 volunteers in the first phase of the trial testing the safety of the vaccine and looking for signs of its effectiveness, the company’s research chief Dr. Gregory Glenn said.

“We are in parallel making doses, making vaccine in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year,” Glenn told a virtual news conference in Melbourne from Novavax’ headquarters in Maryland.

Animal testing suggested the vaccine is effective in low doses. Novavax could manufacture at least 100 million doses this year and 1.5 billion in 2021, he said.

Manufacture of the vaccine, named NVX-CoV2373, was being scaled up with $388 million invested by Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations since March, Glenn said.

The results of the first phase of clinical trials in Melbourne and Brisbane are expected to be known in July, Novavax said. Thousands of candidates in several countries would then become involved in a second phase.

The trial began with six volunteers being injected with the potential vaccine in Melbourne on Tuesday, said Paul Griffin, infectious disease expert with Australian collaborator Nucleus Network.

Novavax adds another new kind to that list, what’s called a recombinant vaccine. Novavax used genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in giant vats of insect cells in a laboratory. Scientists extracted and purified the protein, and packaged it into virus-sized nanoparticles.

“The way we make a vaccine is we never touch the virus,” Novavax told The Associated Press last month. But ultimately, “it looks just like a virus to the immune system.”

It’s the same process that Novavax used to create a nanoparticle flu vaccine that recently passed late-stage testing.