By Ellalyn de Vera-Ruiz
As the global cases of coronavirus topped over three million since the outbreak was confirmed in China late last year, dozens of laboratories around the world have been working on finding both a treatment and vaccine to stop the further spread of the disease.
As of April 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 102 candidate COVID-19 vaccines in development globally.
Of the 102 potential vaccines, only eight are currently in clinical evaluation, while 94 are still in the pre-clinical trial stage.
Clinical trials, WHO explained, involve research on new tests and treatments and evaluates effects of these on humans.
China’s CanSino Biological Inc., in partnership with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, has a candidate vaccine currently in Phase 2 clinical trials. The vaccine is based on the same platform as the Ebola virus disease.
United States drugmaker Pfizer, in partnership with Germany’s BioNtech and other pharmaceutical companies, are in Phases 1 and 2 trials.
Also in Phases 1 and 2 is a vaccine developed by England’s University of Oxford. Scientists had already used the same platform directed against various infections, such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, influenza, tuberculosis, Chikungunya, Zika, and meningitis B.
Currently in phase 1 are potential vaccines developed by United States-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Moderna, as well as vaccine candidates sponsored and developed by China’s Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm, Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm, and Sinovac.
There are four phases of biomedical clinical trials, according to WHO.
Phase 1 tests new drugs for the first time in a small group of people to evaluate a safe dosage range and identify side effects.
Phase 2 involves testing treatments that have been found to be safe in Phase 1 but need a larger group of human subjects to monitor for any adverse effects.
During Phase 3, tests are conducted on larger populations and in different regions and countries, and are often the step right before a new treatment is approved.
Lastly, during Phase 4, studies take place after a country approval has been secured, but there is a need for further testing in a wide population over a longer period.
Scientists have been saying that it may take about 12 to 18 months before a vaccine can be approved for mass use.
Realizing the urgent need to stop the spread of infection in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has earlier promised to give P50 million, from an initial P10 million, to Filipino scientists who can develop a vaccine against the coronavirus disease.
The country has already recorded almost 9,000 cases of COVID-19 three months after the first case was reported in January 30.
Testing existing drugs
While it seems that it may take a little longer to find a vaccine, scientists are hoping to find a cure for COVID-19 soon.
Leading a team of Philippine experts taking part in the WHO’s solidarity trial is Dr. Marissa Alejandria of the University of the Philippines-College of Medicine and president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
The solidarity trial is an international randomized and adoptive clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of four possible therapies in treating COVID-19, according to the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH).
The DOH announced last April 22 the participation of the Philippines among more than 100 countries in the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of antiviral drug Ebola virus, Remdesivir; antimalarial drug, Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine; antiretroviral drugs used to treat human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV), Lopinavir with Ritonavir; and multiple sclerosis treatment, Lopinavir with Ritonavir plus Interferon beta-1a.
“There is currently no magic drug or known treatment for COVID-19 and there is an urgency to find effective treatment,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said.
“The drugs included in this trial are largely untested against SARS-COV 2 virus that causes COVID-19, and more robust data is needed,” she added.
The testing will be conducted in at least 20 Level 3 hospitals nationwide.
In a report by CNN Philippines, hospitals that will be joining the “mega trial” are Philippine General Hospital (Manila), The Medical City (Pasig City), San Lazaro Hospital (Manila), Lung Center of the Philippines (Quezon City), Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (Muntinlupa City), Baguio General Hospital (Benguet), East Avenue Medical Center (Quezon City), Makati Medical Center (Makati City), St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City (Taguig), St. Luke’s Medical Center (Quezon City), University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center (Quezon City), Cardinal Santos Medical Center (San Juan), Manila Doctors Hospital (Manila), Manila Medical Center (Manila), Chinese General Hospital (Manila), San Juan de Dios Medical Center (Pasay City), Diliman Doctors Hospital (Quezon City), University of Santo Tomas Hospital (Manila), Vicente Sotto Medical Center (Cebu City), Southern Philippines Medical Center (Davao City), and World Citi Medical Center (Quezon City).
WHO said that based on emerging evidence, other drugs can be added.
However, until there is sufficient evidence, WHO cautions against physicians and medical associations recommending or administering these unproven patients with COVID-19 or people self-medicating with them.