Coronavirus vaccine in months, instead of years? Genetic engineering could make it possible

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Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer

On January 10, when Chinese researchers published the genome of a mysterious, fast-spreading, virus, it confirmed Dan Barouch’s greatest worry…. “I realized immediately that no one would be immune to it,” says Barouch, director of virology and vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

By early April almost 80 companies and institutes in 19 countries were working on vaccines, most gene-based instead of using traditional approaches… . The labs predicted that a commercial vaccine could be available for emergency or compassionate use by early 2021—incredibly fast, given that vaccines to brand-new pathogens have taken a decade to be perfected and deployed. … If Barouch and his counterparts can offer a safe, effective concoction in a year, “it will be the fastest vaccine development in history,” he says.

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That is a big “if,” however. Although labs have created several gene-based vaccines for other viruses, not one has been commercialized for a human illness.

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Companies are accelerating the development time for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in part by testing vaccines in multiple animal species at once and in parallel with small numbers of people. Usually the process is one animal at a time, and people later, to make sure that side effects are small… . Lack of time warrants greater risk.

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