The first phase I clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine has begun in Seattle, Washington.
Four adults, the first of 45 eventual participants, received their first doses of an experimental vaccine developed through a partnership between the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But although it is an important milestone, the phase I trial is just the beginning of a long process to test the drug’s safety and efficacy.
The trial is being conducted at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, and will test a range of doses of the vaccine. Over the next 6 weeks, participants will receive their first doses, followed by a second 28 days later. Follow-up visits both in person and over the phone will assess participants’ health over a 14-month period, and blood samples will help researchers evaluate the body’s immune response to the experimental vaccine.
The potential vaccine is based on messenger RNA, which directs the body to make a protein found on the coronavirus’s outer shell. The hope is that this will elicit an immune response that protects against infection.
The team at Moderna had already been working on a vaccine for Middle East respiratory syndrome, which is caused by another coronavirus. The viruses’ similarities helped the researchers pivot to the search for a COVID-19 vaccine.
As a result, the phase I trial was “launched in record speed”, according to a statement from NIAID Director Anthony Fauci on 16 March. It took just 63 days from genetic sequencing of the virus to the first human injection of the vaccine candidate.
Researchers hope to have initial clinical-trial data within three months. But even in the best-case scenario, the vaccine would not be widely available to the public for at least another year, according to NIAID.