What’s Behind Novavax’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 Vaccine Development Program

The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) has a long history of leading the fight against new, frightening diseases, like Ebola and the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) which is quickly spreading across the globe. Leading public health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and others believe the COVID-19 virus has the potential to reach pandemic levels as infection numbers rise beyond China’s borders.

In the midst of COVID-19’s proliferation, Gaithersburg, Maryland’s Novavax is offering a glimmer of hope for the global health community, recently announcing it had made progress developing a novel Coronavirus vaccine.

As of the writing of this story, new cases have been identified in Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea, which has the second most cases to China at 4,335. Italy has the third most cases at approximately 1,600 and Iran is next at 1,500 confirmed Coronavirus cases. The United States is now reporting nearly 100 confirmed cases, mostly in Washington state and recent deaths, one of which occurred in New York state. Globally, the number of COVID-19 cases stands near 90,000 with 3,000 reported fatalities.

According to the New York Times, the Coronavirus has hit every continent except Antarctica.

Novavax announced on February 26th, 2020, that its vaccine candidate, which was created  “…using its proprietary recombinant protein nanoparticle technology platform to generate antigens derived from the Coronavirus spike (S) protein” had made progress. The company expects to use “…its proprietary Matrix-M™ adjuvant with its COVID-19 vaccine candidate to enhance immune responses.”

The COVID-19 development program is being led by Nina Patel, Director of Vaccine Development and Antibody Discovery. Her all-female team that is working to develop a viable vaccine for COVID-19 has been hard at work, almost non-stop since January 10th.  Aside from the global health implications of a vaccine, the fact that it is being developed and led by a team of female scientists is a story in itself that will hopefully also spread across the world as a source of inspiration for young girls and women to pursue their dreams of an impactful career in science.

Novavax is a late-stage biotechnology company focused on serious infectious disease vaccine development which was featured in a recent BioBuzz story about several BioHealth Capital Region’s (BHCR) companies that could play a role in finding a much needed Coronavirus vaccine. The company’s previous experience in advancing early-stage programs for other Coronaviruses, like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), is what enabled them to respond so quickly with a vaccine development program for COVID-19. Novavax has been heavily involved in Ebola vaccine research as well. 

Novavax is currently testing the vaccine in animal models and expects to move into human trials in the Spring of this year.  According to Gregory Glenn, M.D., Novavax’s President of Research and Development, they hope to have a deployable vaccine in 18 months.

Most experts agree that it will take a year or more for a Coronavirus vaccine to be available for use. In a recent ABC News interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIAID), stated, “Going into a Phase 1 trial does not mean you have a vaccine,” Fauci said. “It means you have taken the first step towards the vaccine, which by anybody’s calculation is going to be at least a year to a year and a half at best, and that is if we proceed under the emergency authorization of the regulatory agencies.”

Aside from Novavax, a few other BioHealth Capital Region companies are also working on a Coronavirus vaccine, including Altimmune and GSK.  These companies and others are detailed in the recent GEN article, ‘How to Conquer Coronavirus: Top 35 Treatments in Development’ that was published by Alex Philippidis.

Until a viable vaccine hits the market, staying informed, regularly washing your hands and staying home from school and work when sick are the best lines of defense against Coronavirus spread.

As we’ve witnessed, the last few weeks have seen global markets take a major downturn; flights to impacted areas have been restricted; tourist sites have been shut down; large public events have been cancelled; and social media has exploded with misinformation and rumors. All the while governments, agencies, researchers and public health organizations coordinate efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, learn more about how the virus works and strive to develop a vaccine.

Novavax and other BHCR organizations will be on the frontlines of the fight against the Coronavirus, continuing the region’s legacy of innovative, emergency infectious disease vaccine research and development.

For the best and most accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19, its impact and the latest preventative measures, BioBuzz encourages readers to avoid gathering information via social media by visiting the following legitimate online resources:

*Hackers are using Coronavirus maps to infect your computer – stay informed and practice safe browsing!

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