When will a vaccine be available?

Will it be possible to put a coronavirus vaccine on the market soon? A look at German research projects

Work at the CureVac laboratory in Tübingen
Work at the CureVac laboratory in Tübingen picture alliance/dpa

Who is conducting research into vaccines?

According to information published by the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 70 projects worldwide are developing a vaccine against the coronavirus. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) even reckons with over 100 projects. In March 2020 the Federal Government made available an additional 145 million euros for research into coronavirus. It will primarily be used to support the international CEPI vaccine initiative.

How is a vaccine developed?

A vaccine project has to pass through six stages:
 

  1. Analysis of the virus
  2. Designing a vaccine
  3. Trials on animals
  4. Trials on volunteers
  5. Approval procedure
  6. Mass production

According to the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (VFA), the development of vaccines has previously taken 15 to 20 years. However, new technologies and previous experience with vaccine projects should make it possible to enormously accelerate the process.

How far are German projects?

Two companies and a consortium are working on gene-based vaccines and have made relatively good progress:
 

  • BioNTech, a Mainz-based company, hopes to begin testing with volunteers in April 2020.
  • CureVac, a Tübingen-based company, aims to launch the test phase with voluntary patients in June 2020.
  • The OpenCorona Consortium involves participation from Giessen University and envisages beginning tests with volunteers in 2021.

Gene-based vaccines have the advantage that it would be possible to mass produce injection doses of these vaccines very quickly. According to the VFA, 11 enterprises in Germany are currently engaged in developing a vaccine

Do existing medicines help?

Many medicines that have already been approved and shown their effectiveness against other diseases such as Ebola or malaria are currently undergoing clinical trials with COVID-19 patients. Although there have been some positive individual case reports, so far the effectiveness and tolerability of no medicine has been systematically confirmed.

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