A promising Australian candidate for a coronavirus vaccine has been abandoned after trial participants returned false HIV positive results.
Australia had previously agreed to buy 51 million doses of the vaccine being developed by Australian firm CSL and the University of Queensland (UQ).
The government said orders of other vaccines would now fill the shortfall.
CSL and UQ stressed that the positive results were false – meaning trial participants’ health was not at risk.
Certain COVID-19 vaccine candidates could increase susceptibility to HIV, warns a group of researchers who in 2007 learned that an experimental HIV vaccine had raised in some people the risk for infection with the AIDS virus. These concerns have percolated in the background of the race for a vaccine to stem the coronavirus pandemic, but now the researchers have gone public with a “cautionary tale,” in part because trials of those candidates may soon begin in locales that have pronounced HIV epidemics, such as South Africa.
Some approved and experimental vaccines have as a backbone a variety of adenoviruses, which can cause the common cold but are often harmless. The ill-fated HIV vaccine trial used an engineered strain known as adenovirus 5 (Ad5) to shuttle into the body the gene for the surface protein of the AIDS virus. In four candidate COVID-19 vaccines now in clinical trials in several countries, including the United States, Ad5 similarly serves as the “vector” to carry in the surface protein gene of SARS-CoV-2, the viral cause of the pandemic; two of these have advanced to large-scale, phase III efficacy studies in Russia and Pakistan.
In today’s issue of The Lancet, four veteran researchers raise a warning flag about those COVID-19 vaccine candidates by recounting their experience running a placebo-controlled AIDS vaccine trial dubbed STEP. An interim analysis of STEP found that uncircumcised men who had been naturally infected with Ad5 before receiving the vaccine became especially vulnerable to the AIDS virus. The vaccine, made by Merck, had been the leading hope for what was then a 20-year search for a shot that could thwart HIV. But after the STEP results appeared, the field went into a tailspin. “It took a decade to recover,” says one of the co-authors of the Lancet correspondence, Lawrence Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Drugs are a risky business and, for equity investors hoping to eventually share in the profits, each stage of development presents an escalated risk. Lo reasoned that substantially lowering the risks, even if it meant correspondingly lowering the rewards, could attract investment instead from ordinary bond markets—that is, from managers of pension funds, university endowments, and sovereign-wealth funds, who control a great deal of money and generally invest in low-risk, low-return assets.
Given how uncertain vaccine markets are, the paper notes, governments (“public-sector interventions,” and so forth), would need to guarantee a vaccine bond by committing in advance to purchase and stockpile vaccines. The paper’s most creative suggestion is for a subscription model, a kind of vaccine Netflix, where governments would pay an annual fee to a new international-development fund, one that could perhaps be managed by the G7. The fund could float a bond to both advance vaccine biotechs and to make market commitments to Big Pharma. The virus, the markets, and the science are global.
…it would be much better for the government to say that the money is not from taxpayers. “We’re borrowing it from the rest of the world. And if and when you succeed, or any of the other hundred and fifty projects—that could have been funded, but aren’t being funded right now—succeeds, all the bond holders will get paid. That would be great. Everybody earns a return.”
We’ve been hijacked by our technologies, but left illiterate about what they actually mean. In this case, I am in the rare position of having known, spent time with, and interviewed the inventor of the method used in the presently available Covid-19 tests, which is called PCR, (Polymerase Chain Reaction.)