A COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the Cambridge, Massachusetts firm Moderna is showing early signs of promise, with an early-stage human trial showing some compelling results. This much-awaited bit of good news in the fight against the novel coronavirus sent shivers of anticipation through the stock market, which drove the company’s shares up some 26 percent intraday as the development broke.
According to reports, trial participants received an mRNA vaccine dose of 25, 100 or 250 micrograms, with 15 in each group. At 43 days into the study, all participants had shown results of some kind.
Those who received the low dose showed antibodies to the virus generally higher than the antibodies of recovered COVID-19 victims. Meanwhile, those who got 100 micrograms had antibodies that “significantly exceeded levels” of those who had previously recovered from the disease, according to the company. Data on a second dose weren’t available for the 250-microgram group, according to Moderna.
Nearly as interesting to market watchers is the fact that the Moderna vaccine didn’t seem to only cause antibody creation. Eight test subjects also produced so-called “neutralizing antibodies” against COVID-19, according to the company. Experts say those appear to be particularly important when it comes to creating a fully protective vaccine.
And those specialized antibodies didn’t seem tied to dosage. Four participants who developed neutralizing antibodies received the 25-microgram dose, while the other four got 100 micrograms. Data on neutralizing antibodies for the other participants were not yet available, according to Moderna.
“These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection starting with a dose as low as 25 [micrograms],” Moderna Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tal Zaks said in a statement. “When combined with the success in preventing viral replication in the lungs of a pre-clinical challenge model at a dose that elicited similar levels of neutralizing antibodies, these data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials.”
There is currently no vaccine or known cure for COVID-19, a disease that didn’t exist until late 2019. The hope is that antibodies will be key to protecting against infection, although that itself remains unknown. The disease simply hasn’t existed long enough for scientists to definitively say what protection antibodies offer or how long said protection lasts, because there hasn’t been enough time to study any potential vaccine’s long-term efficacy.
Nonetheless, the race to develop a vaccine is on – and is going at warp speed. That’s because more than 4.7 million people have been infected with the disease worldwide and over 300,000 have died. Nearly 90,000 of those deaths have come from America alone.
Moderna has been fast-tracking its work with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and is the first of eight firms to release data on human trial testing. The vaccine it is currently attempting to develop is built around lab-created genetic material called messenger RNA, or “mRNA.” The mRNA is a genetic code that instructs cells what to build – in this case, an antigen that might induce an immune response to the virus (thus training it to take on the real thing).
Having now wrapped its Phase 1 trials, Moderna is moving into Phase 2 trials that will include 600 participants. The company hopes to begin a final Phase 3 trial in July.
Thus far, company data have indicated that test subjects have tolerated the vaccine well, with minimally notable adverse effects. The latest release indicates three subjects in the 250 microgram-dose group developed “grade-3 systemic symptoms” following the second dose of the drug.
If the drug proves to be safe, effective and well-tolerated by those who take it, Moderna says it could be ready for market in early 2021. That’s something to be devoutly hoped for, considering the massive disruption that COVID-19 has already brought – and the fact that a vaccine is what many consumers will require before resuming life as normal.
According to the consumers we’ve surveyed, a vaccine is far and away the leading choice for what they would need to feel comfortable going about their previous activities. Our analysis shows that 48.8 percent of consumers would require a vaccine to be available before they would return to their routines, up from 40.5 percent on March 27 and 39.7 percent on March 17. Availability of a vaccine outranked treatments for COVID-19, evidence that the curve was flattening and an “all clear” from public health officials.
Yes, consumers also told PYMNTS that they’re concerned about their finances, and are tightening their belts in preparation of weathering what could be a long economic storm. Many report being worried that a layoff is soon coming their way.
And yet when surveyed about their main anxieties, a job loss, a drop-off in household income or even severe economic consequences weren’t their main fears. Their top worries have increasingly been concerns that they’ll get sick and possibly die from the virus, or that they’ll expose someone they love to one of those fates.
Until they can be sure both of those dangers are off the table, the majority of consumers we surveyed reported being satisfied to sit out society for a while – even a long while. According to our most recent report, the majority of consumers now think COVID-19 will be an event that stretches past the seven-month mark.
Today’s news doesn’t exactly dispel that fear, since the vaccine wouldn’t be available until 2021 even if everything goes right. But it could do a lot to dispel the anxiety that what’s happening now is never going to end. Because now, there are at least early indications of a light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of an mRNA vaccine.