A medical staffer watches from a tent at one of the emergency structures that were set up to ease procedures at the Brescia hospital, northern Italy, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Italians woke up to yet further virus-containment restrictions after Premier Giuseppe Conte ordered restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed after imposing a nationwide lockdown on personal movement. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
In 2010, Medicago, a Canadian company that has been working on a vaccine for Wuhan Flu (also known as COVID-19), was given a large portion of the $100 million given to a project dubbed Blue Angel funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to build a facility in North Carolina, where they proved they were able to find a vaccines in just 20 days and subsequently quickly scale up production.
Now they say they have a vaccine for the coronavirus and could have doses ready to distribute by November if the FDA will work with them to fast-track the approval process, which can sometimes take a decade.
Medicago CEO Bruce Clark said his company could produce as many as 10 million doses a month. If regulatory hurdles can be cleared, he said in a Thursday interview, the vaccine could start to become available in November.
An Israeli research lab has also claimed to have created a vaccine. But Clark says his company’s technique, which has already been proven effective in producing vaccines for seasonal flu, is more reliable and easier to scale.
“There are a couple of others who are claiming that they have — well, we will call them vaccine[s]” for COVID-19, he said. “But they’re different technologies. Some are RNA– or DNA-based vaccines that have not yet been proven in any indication yet, let alone this one. Hopefully, they’ll be successful.”
Medicago says they use an innovative technique involving plants that isn’t as expensive and doesn’t take as long to develop. “[A] relatively new approach that has seen much advancement in the past decade… it inserts a genetic sequence into agrobacterium, a soil bacteria, which is taken up by plants — in this case, a close cousin to tobacco. The plant begins to produce the protein that can then be used as a vaccine. If the virus begins to mutate, as is expected for COVID-19, they can just update the production using new plants.”
Clark says his goal is to be in human studies by July and ready to distribute doses as early as November. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday that an unnamed drug maker could have human studies going to test a vaccine in mere weeks. Fauci said that vaccine could be available in 8-12 months, which also falls in the November time frame.