American biotech company Novavax has started human trials of its coronavirus vaccine, hoping to release a vaccine as early as the end of the year.
The Maryland-headquartered vaccine development firm announced that it began injecting 131 volunteers in Australia Tuesday.
Phase 1 of trials aim to prove the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine, named NVX-CoV2373.
A number of other experimental vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are in different stages of early testing in the U.S., China and Europe.
Drugmakers Moderna and Pfizer, in collaboration with BioNTech, have already started clinical trials. Novavax joined that group Tuesday, with volunteers in Melbourne and Brisbane.
“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,” Dr. Gregory Glenn, the company’s research chief said during a virtual news conference, according to The Associated Press.
Early testing in animals suggested the vaccine is effective in low doses, Glenn said. The results of the human testing phase are expected in July. If all goes according to plan, thousands of volunteers across the world would be involved in the second phase of testing.
“Administering our vaccine in the first participants of this clinical trial is a significant achievement, bringing us one step closer toward addressing the fundamental need for a vaccine in the fight against the global COVID‑19 pandemic,” Stanley C. Erck, the company’s CEO and president, said in a statement.
Most of the vaccine trials currently in progress aim to train the body’s immune system to recognize so-called “spike” proteins — which the coronavirus uses to invade human cells — to prepare the body to react to the real virus.
To achieve that result some vaccines use a dead or harmless virus, while others use the genetic code for that protein.
Novax is using a different approach, called the recombinant vaccine.
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The company genetically engineered harmless copies of the coronavirus spike, purified the protein and then packaged it into virus-sized nanoparticles.
“The way we make a vaccine is we never touch the virus,” Novavax told the AP. But ultimately, “it looks just like a virus to the immune system.”
Wall Street reacted positively to the news. Novavax stocks jumped 17.3% after the company’s Tuesday announcement.
Production of the vaccine received a $388-million investment boost by Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations since March, Glenn said.
Novavax has the capacity to manufacture at least 100 million doses this year, and 1.5 billion more in 2021, he added.