Novavax vaccine stops the spread of coronavirus between monkeys – hopes for a shot that will eliminate virus and prevent people from getting sick
- Novavax said the vaccine “prevented infection” between rhesus macaques
- Scientists described the breakthrough last night as “exciting,” but urged caution
- They warned about differences between the way viruses work in monkeys and humans
A company in the global race to produce a Covid-19 vaccine has raised hopes that its shot could prevent people from spreading the virus to each other after successful trials in monkeys.
Novavax told The Mail on Sunday that the vaccine ‘prevented’ infection between rhesus macaques during testing.
The American pharmaceutical company is now going to investigate whether the vaccine could have the same effect on the human population and help put an end to the pandemic.
Novavax told The Mail on Sunday that the vaccine ‘prevented infection’ between rhesus macaques during testing (photo file)
“If it happens in humans, that would be the dream scenario for a vaccine,” said Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax.
Scientists described the breakthrough last night as “exciting,” but urged caution and warned of significant differences between the way viruses work in monkey trials and in human populations.
The race to produce the earliest and most effective vaccine is reaching a high fever, with a major announcement of trials by Britain’s AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford within days.
The promising results so far from US giants Pfizer and Moderna show that their jabs should protect people from getting sick – but there is insufficient data on whether they will stop the spread of Covid to others.
If asymptomatic people who have received a vaccine can still infect others, the virus can continue to spread.
After a successful experiment in mice, Novavax gave a dozen rhesus monkeys two doses of its vaccine of different strengths three weeks apart before they were infected with Covid.
The virus did not make most animals sick because it did not appear in their noses.
It replicated only in the lungs of one monkey, which received the lowest dose of the vaccine. That monkey fought the infection in four days.
Dr. Glenn said the antibodies created by the vaccine were “so strong,” they created “sterile immunity” – preventing the virus from moving from the monkey’s lungs to its nose and causing the animals to spread Covid.
The American pharmaceutical company will now investigate whether the vaccine could have the same effect on the human population (photo file)
Monkeys are commonly used in US vaccine and drug studies and typically represent the final step before clinical trials in humans.
Unlike humans, they only experience mild symptoms of Covid-19.
The Novavax vaccine is being tried in humans in the UK.
The company initially began testing 9,000 people – including broadcaster Adrian Chiles, who has written about finding the experience “ weirdly satisfying ” – and is expanding the process to 15,000 at a late stage.
The first results are expected early next year or possibly earlier. Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said scientists were eagerly awaiting the data on the Novavax trial.
He added: ‘Human life is much more variable than a study of macaques in a lab because we are all constantly being infected with different doses, whether you are standing in line at the supermarket or in the pub.
“You don’t know how it will turn out in real life, but it’s pretty exciting.”
Maryland-based Novavax, which has received funding from the foundation of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the US government, was founded in 1987 and is relatively small compared to its vaccine competitors. It has never marketed a vaccine before.
If a vaccine could create sterile immunity, it would probably be the most sought after of the more than 200 Covid shots currently being developed.
The UK has committed to 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which will be produced at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in County Durham.