With the number of deaths from COVID-19 starting to tick upwards again, the decision to allow ICDDR, B, an institute of international repute, partner with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac to run late stage trials of the vaccine candidate developed by the latter in Bangladesh, certainly comes as good news.
Although the Bangladesh Medical Research Council, or BMRC, had given its approval for the trial last month, the government’s approval remained pending. Now that it has signed off on the matter, Bangladesh is set to become the third country, after Indonesia and Brazil, to host stage-3 trials of the Sinovac candidate, named CoronaVac, one of the six such vaccine candidates worldwide that have entered Phase 3 clinical trials.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that vaccines developed by China will be a “global public good”. Sinovac has also said it aims to serve people across the world, and its vaccines will be distributed according to two priorities. The Nasdaq-listed biotech company began developing its vaccine in late January, less than a week after Wuhan -- the original epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak -- went into a strict lockdown. They have the capacity to produce 300 million doses of the vaccine a year, if it is approved by China's National Medical Products Administration.
In May, Sinovac published in the journal Science the results of animal trials, which found that its vaccine induced effective antibodies in mice and rats, as well as primates such as the rhesus macaques. A month later, the company said its phase-II trial of 600 volunteers found the vaccine caused the human body to produce antibodies 14 days after vaccination. By then however, China had already controlled the outbreak within its borders, forcing the company to move abroad for phase-III, which requires thousands of participants, preferably in a location where an outbreak is still ongoing.
The trial in Brazil started in late July, and the country was promised 120 million doses of the vaccine, if the tests found it to be effective. Subsequently the Indonesian government also entered into a deal with Sinovac to receive 50 million doses from November to March 2021, with guaranteed priority access until the end of next year. This is precisely the kind of advantage our government should also seek to reap by participating in a vaccine trial, which is not the kind of laboratory experiment in which human beings are used as guinea pigs, as some have tried to mischievously portray in the press recently.
Dimas Covas, president of the Butantan Institute, which is the Brazilian partner for the trial, has said preliminary data shows CoronaVac induced immunity in 97% of the people vaccinated after two doses - a level he said was "fundamental to break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus." With that in mind, let the trial commence.