Kenyan researchers part of Covid-19 vaccine project

Monday, April 20th, 2020 00:00 |
Laboratory technologists display some of the solutions produced at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kakamega to combat Coronavirus. Photo/Photo/KNA

Kenyan researchers will be part of a team of scientists brought together by two pharmaceutical firms to find a vaccine for Covid-19 virus.

This is an initiative of pharmaceutical firms, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). 

Prof Omu Anzala from the KAVI Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) based at the College of Health Sciences of the University of Nairobi is leading a team already studying how the virus is responding to treatment. 

The team of four members will identify candidates for the vaccine trials in a bid to stop the pandemic.

“Yes, we are ready to collaborate,” he told People Daily through telephone.

Anzala who is leading a team of researchers from the UoN joined other scientist in the world in search for the Covid-19 vaccine on March 22, 2020. He, however, could not give a specific date when the vaccine is expected to hit the shelves.

“It is difficult to estimate research and development time lines of a vaccine. There are too many variables to take into account,” he said, adding that a solution will be there at the end of the day.

He said his team is leading the national case management efforts with some of their responsibilities including studying how the virus is responding to treatment.

“The information collected will be used for current and future epidemics,” he said.

 In an event held in Paris, France and London, England, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced an agreement in a signed letter of intent to develop an adjuvanted vaccine for Covid-19, using innovative technology from both companies, to help address the on-going pandemic.

An adjuvant is an ingredient used in some vaccines that helps create a stronger immune response in people receiving the vaccine. In other words, adjuvants help vaccines work better.

 In the landmark agreement, Sanofi will contribute its S-protein Covid-19 antigen, which is based on recombinant DNA technology.

 This technology has produced an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus, and the DNA sequence encoding this antigen has been combined into the DNA of the baculovirus expression platform, the basis of Sanofi’s licensed recombinant influenza product in the US.

The Baculoviruses are insect pathogenic viruses that are used for pest insect control and as tools to produce recombinant proteins.

 GSK will contribute its proven pandemic adjuvant technology. The use of an adjuvant can be of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protect more people. 

Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi said as the world faces the Covid-19’s unprecedented crisis, it was clear that no single company can go it alone.

 “And basically that is why Sanofi is continuing to complement its expertise and resources with our peers, such as GSK, with the goal to create and supply sufficient quantities of vaccines that will help stop this virus,” he added.

 According to Emma Walmsley, GSK’s Chief Executive Officer, this collaboration bringing together two of the world’s largest vaccines companies is an important milestone in the search for the Covid-19 cure.

 “By combining our scientific expertise, technologies and capabilities, we believe that we can help accelerate the global effort to develop a vaccine to protect as many people as possible from Covid-19,” she added.

 The companies plan to initiate phase I clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and, if successful, subject to regulatory considerations, aim to complete the development required for availability by the second half of 2021. 

 So far there is no known cure for the disease even as the death toll across the world rose to more than 130,000 people on Wednesday, while in Kenya, 11 people are reported to have succumbed.

Prof Anzala said his team’s research is seeking to answer the question of when one is declared free of the virus and this will involve collecting samples of urine, stool and blood from patients who have fully recovered from the virus in order to establish at what point they stop spreading it.

Other members of the team include Moses Masika, Loice Achieng’ Ombajo, and Marybeth Maritim.

Previously, Masika is on record that the infrastructure for testing the virus had been set up, and they are now in the process of getting reagents and working out different procedures.

KAVI-ICR has carried out more than 15 vaccine clinical trials and researches since its inception in 1998.

 Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya President, Dr Louis Machogu said it could take years for a vaccine to discovered  because they include genetical pre-clinical lab tests but welcomed the intiative.

“ Kenya should participate and any well-meaning scientist should support this cause because we have clinical trial capacity,” he said

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