A Canadian company says it has made a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, claiming to have developed a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that could begin human testing as early as this summer.
Quebec City-based Medicago said it has produced a virus-like particle of the novel coronavirus, a first step towards producing a vaccine, which will now undergo pre-clinical testing for safety and efficacy.
Medicago said it could begin human trials as soon as July or August if approved by Health Canada and other agencies.
Company CEO Bruce Clark told Global News that if the vaccine is successful it could be available to the wider public by November 2021. Other media reports erroneously said the vaccine could be ready by November of this year.
“These timelines are heavily reliant on what will give the regulators enough comfort to say this product is ready to go into human testing and then, secondly, for use in the broader public,” he said. “Our best guess right now is 18 months.”
Clark said Medicago researchers were able to produce a candidate vaccine within just 20 days of obtaining the gene of the virus.
If they are given the green light, they could produce as many as 10 million doses a month out of their plant in North Carolina, according to Clark. The company currently has the resources to create about two million doses a month out of its plant in Quebec.
The biopharmaceutical company said it was able to create a vaccine candidate quickly as it used a plant-based platform, not chicken embryos, to help grow vaccine proteins.
“We have a [seasonal flu vaccine] that is currently under review with Health Canada, and the [technology] we are using for this COVID vaccine is exactly the same, which has proven to be efficacious,” Clark said.
Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in aging and immunity at McMaster University, said the company’s ability to grow virus-like particles in plants has helped it produce vaccines in the past against influenza, including a vaccine candidate against H1N1 in 2009.
“A virus-like particle looks like the outside of a virus but doesn’t have any of the genetic material on the inside,” said Bowdish, who also sits on the scientific advisory board of Medicago. “It doesn’t cause infection but looks really similar from your immune system’s perspective.”
Medical researchers around the world have been racing to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which has sickened more than 127,000 people and killed roughly 5,000. As of Friday morning, there were 159 confirmed cases in Canada, including the prime minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
Medicago said it’s also working to develop antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, in collaboration with the Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre headed by Dr. Gary Kobinger, who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola. The research is being partly funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).
“The hope is that we’ll be able to create antibodies that as soon as the virus gets into us, it covers it so it can no longer infect cells,” Bowdish said.
Although this was “good news,” Bowdish cautioned that most vaccine trials fail and in 17 years there was never a vaccine fully developed for the SARS outbreak.
“It’s unlikely there will be a miracle drug,” she said. “But Canada has had some incredible successes creating vaccines very quickly. We had huge success with the Ebola virus.”
Other vaccine candidates to be tested
Globally, there are roughly 20 coronavirus vaccine candidates being developed by research institutes and drugmakers, including America’s Johnson & Johnson and France’s Sanofi SA, according to Reuters.
In China, dozens of clinical trials are underway, according to the World Health Organization, as medical researchers work to evaluate everything from HIV drugs to stem cells and even traditional medicines to treat COVID-19.
Two pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. are getting close to human testing.
Biotechnology company Moderna Inc. — working with the U.S.-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) — has announced plans to start a trial of a vaccine candidate on 45 people in Seattle this month. Testing on animals will proceed simultaneously with human trials, the NIH told Reuters.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., an immunotherapy company, is working with a company in China to develop a vaccine and expects to start human clinical trials in 30 U.S. volunteers in April.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday that human trials for a vaccine would be possible “within a few weeks.”
“We said … it would take two to three months to have it in the first human,” Fauci said. “I think we’re going to do better than that. I hope within a few weeks we may be able to make an announcement to you all that we’ve given the first shot to the first person.”
However, he tempered expectations, stating a vaccine would not be widely available for another 12 to 18 months. The World Health Organization has also made similar projections.
“I want to make sure people understand, and I’ve said that over and over again, that does not mean we have a vaccine that we can use,” he said. “We mean it’s record time to get it tested. It’s going to take a year to a year and a half to really know if it works.”
The WHO has said that there’s currently no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19, but that possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are currently under investigation.
Trudeau pledges more help for vulnerable Canadians struggling with coronavirus crisis – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more help is on the way for Canadian youth and seniors struggling with staying at home and accessing critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his daily address on Sunday, the prime minister first delivered a message to youth across the country, acknowledging for many Canadians “home isn’t a safe place to be” and that for “many more, they have no place to go at all.”
The federal government has pledged $7.5 million in funding to Kids Help Phone to provide mental health support to children and youth impacted by school closures and reduced access to social support and community resources.
The government will also boost aid for Canadian seniors, contributing $9 million through United Way Canada to help the country’s older population get groceries, medication and other critical items.
The aid will also go toward assessing seniors’ individual needs and connecting them to the necessary community resources.
The new relief measures come on top of previous commitments to assist Canadians experiencing homelessness, as well as those relying on women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and similar facilities in Indigenous communities.
WATCH | Trudeau speaks directly to Canadian youth:
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, kids relocate to Quebec cottage
On the advice of doctors, Trudeau continues to work from home despite the conclusion of his 14-day period of self-isolation.
His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau — who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month following a trip to the United Kingdom — took to social media late Saturday to say she had received a clean bill of health.
The prime minister said Sunday that he was “very happy” to receive the news.
“It’s been a few days since she’s been symptom-free, and obviously I want to thank everyone who’s sent messages of support.”
WATCH | Trudeau updates Canadians on his family:
Trudeau said he will remain at the family’s home in Ottawa while his wife and three children spend some time at the family’s cottage retreat in Quebec.
“Up to a few days before she was clear, I was still sharing a roof — we were being careful — but sharing a roof with someone who’d tested positive for COVID-19. So I have to continue in isolation in order to be sure that we’re following all protocols and the recommendations by Health Canada.”
As for other Canadians trying to follow recommended guidelines, the prime minister underscored the public health agency’s criteria about who gets a green light to go for walks in public.
“It’s very simple,” Trudeau said. “You can go for a walk unless you have … tested positive for COVID-19, unless you have symptoms of COVID-19 or unless you have returned from outside the country within 14 days.”
Restrictions tightened on domestic travel
On Saturday, Trudeau announced that anyone hoping to board a plane or train between cities and provinces who exhibits symptoms of coronavirus will be barred from travel as of noon ET Monday.
Personnel from air and rail companies will conduct health checks on passengers prior to boarding and can now prevent anyone showing signs of the illness from continuing on their journey.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that because interprovincial bus travel does not fall under federal jurisdiction, he would be working with provinces to recommend similar protocols for bus operators.
WHO expert's advice for Canada: don't just flatten the curve, curtail it – CTV News
The Canadian doctor at the forefront of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) fight against the novel coronavirus says Canada is taking the appropriate steps to flatten the curve, noting that the biggest challenge lies in the speed of finding new cases and isolating them.
“The danger that Canada faces, like any other country, are the cases you have in the country right now and how those are managed,” WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward told CTV News Channel via Skype from Geneva Sunday.
“It’s going to need to be more then flattening the curve—it’s flatten and curtail, or cut that curve as much as possible.”
The Canadian doctor has become the WHO’s leading expert on COVID-19. During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the virus, Aylward led an international team on a fact-finding mission in the region.
As the outbreak spread across the world, Aylward studied the unprecedented response from global governments as they tried to “flatten the curve.”
“Canada has been doing all the right things,” Aylward said.
“It’s been working very hard to attack this on two fronts. The first is making sure the treatments and capacities are in place to take care of sick Canadians. But, as importantly, trying to find those cases rapidly and trying to isolate, because that’s what slows down the virus.”
Aylward says the best course of action in fighting this disease, so far, has proven to be a good defence and offence.
In a previous interview with CTV’s W5, he noted that China was able to stop the disease from spreading further by enacting “draconian” steps: self-isolation, mass quarantine and physical distancing measures.
He says both federal and provincial officials are taking the right steps to ensure the safety of Canadians, encouraging physical distancing measures and even shutting down provincial borders.
Our biggest challenge, he says, will be diagnosing and isolating mild cases of the disease to stop its rapid transmission.
“The only areas that have successfully managed to keep the numbers down have really been east Asia… China, Korea, Singapore. In all of these places what they did was make sure that they effectively isolated everybody with the disease, whether it was mild or serious disease, because they’re both going to spread the virus,” he said.
“You’ve got to do is take the heat out of this thing and that’s how they did it.”
Aylward says because the virus spreads so rapidly, the steps countries take to flatten the curve need to be equally as aggressive — something he admits is hard for the public to understand.
“Your real goal at this point is preventing your health services from being overwhelmed so you can take care of the seriously sick and save as many lives as possible,” he noted.
As of Sunday morning, more than 5,600 people in Canada have been infected with the virus and 61 have died.
Canada to provide more funding for seniors, vulnerable amid coronavirus pandemic: Trudeau – Global News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced increased funding for seniors, youth and other vulnerable groups that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking from the Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Sunday, he said the government will contribute $9 million through United Way Canada for local organizations that support practical services to Canadian seniors.
These services will include the grocery delivery, medications, and personal outreach to assess individuals’ needs and connect them to community supports.
“In a country like Canada, no one should be forgotten,” he said.
On Saturday, Trudeau announced that beginning Monday, domestic airlines and federally-regulated train operators will prevent anyone showing signs of illness from travelling.
“As of Monday at noon, people showing any signs whatsoever of COVID-19 will be denied boarding at all domestic flights and intercity passenger trains,” Trudeau told reporters.
A press release detailing the new measures also said the restrictions would require all air operators and intercity rail companies to do a “health check,” and screen their passengers before they come on board.
Coronavirus outbreak: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau says she has recovered from COVID-19
During her daily update on Saturday, Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Canada is “definitely not out of the woods” and that now is the time to “absolutely double down” on all efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), as of 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country had topped 5,400.
Tam said as of Saturday over 184,000 Canadians had been tested for COVID-19.
She said seven per cent of cases need hospitalization, three per cent were critically ill. One per cent of cases so far have been fatal.
New data released by PHAC said 65 per cent of reported cases in Canada were linked to community transmission, while 35 per cent were either “exposed while travelling or exposed to a traveller returning to Canada.”
As of March 28, 2020, demographics, symptoms and outcomes were only available for 2,811 cases reported in Canada, providing a limited snapshot of who has caught the virus and how.
Coronavirus outbreak: Ottawa restricts domestic travel
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 12, also provided an update on Saturday, saying she was feeling “so much better” and had received the “all clear” from her physician and Ottawa Public Health.
During his daily update Prime Minister Trudeau said Sophie was “feeling great,” and confirmed that their children were also doing well.
“We’re all doing well,” he said, adding that he would continue to work from home.
–With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun, Maryam Shah and David Lao
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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