BY HANNAH JACKSON, GLOBAL NEWS, Posted May 3, 2020
Thousands of researchers around the world have been working tirelessly to develop a vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus that has wreaked havoc across the globe.
researchers are honing in on a possible vaccine.
But, they say it could be two years before any such vaccine would be ready for public consumption.
Challenges to vaccine development
The biggest challenge researchers face when trying to develop vaccines for emerging viruses like SARS-CoV-2 is a lack of information, Dr. Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s Toronto campus and a research scientist at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, told Global News.
She said because this novel coronavirus only spilled over into the human population a few months ago, researchers were essentially “starting from scratch.”
“We don’t have a clinical picture, we don’t have a genetic signature, we don’t have the protein signature,” she said.
“We know nothing about this virus.”
She said scientists have had to study what the virus is made of and how it behaves in order to develop a target.
Dr. Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster University’s department of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, said in general, coronaviruses pose a problem for vaccine development.
He explained that’s because researchers don’t have a very good understanding of what type of protection a vaccine would provide for this type of virus.
“For some vaccines, we know really, really specifically what cells in the immune system, for example, are really important for ensuring that you’re protected,” he said.
He said in some cases, scientists are able to measure “with pretty good confidence” whether a person is going to be protected from a virus or not.
But, this is not the case with SARS-CoV-2, Miller said.
“There are questions about how to generate a good protective response and how to measure that and what you need to measure,” he said. “And so that does pose a sort of significant challenge.”But, these are not “insurmountable” challenges, said Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, director of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto.
She said it’s “reasonable” to be optimistic that a vaccine will be developed.
“People have tried to develop vaccines before, but never have we put this much effort into trying to find something that will work,” she said. “Never have so many approaches been tried.”
She said scientists are trying both traditional and innovative methods, and are hoping to end up with more than one effective vaccine.
According to Kelvin, the most traditional type of vaccine takes the entire virus and kills it. A patient is then immunized so their immune system can identify the virus before it encounters the live version.
“So, we’re basically educating your immune army to get ready and know what it’s looking for before it has to deal with something that could cause disease,” she said.
This has proven to be a safe and effective type of vaccine for other viruses, Kelvin said, but it takes time to develop.
“We have to get the virus, we have to culture it and make lots and lots of it to kill it,” she said. Researchers then need to confirm the virus has actually been killed, and that the quality of the vaccine is good enough to be given to people, she added.