Thailand enters vaccine race with trials on monkeys

Thailand enters vaccine race with trials on monkeys

The Straits Times·2020-05-26 05:18

SARABURI Thailand is conducting tests on macaque monkeys as it races to produce a cheaper, alternative coronavirus vaccine it hopes will be ready by next year, a top researcher said yesterday.More than 100 candidate vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, of which at least eight are in clinical trials with humans, according to the World Health Organisation.Oxford University researchers are considered the front runners in the race, having started clinical trials last month on a version based on a different virus that causes infections in chimpanzees.Dr Suchinda Malaivitjitnond, director of the National Primate Research Centre of Thailand who oversaw Saturday's vaccine injections given to a group of 13 monkeys, said she hoped a "made in Thailand" vaccine would be cheaper than a European or American drug.The testing phase on the macaques came after trials on mice were successful, researchers said. They are working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania in the United States using a new technology based on mRNA, a type of genetic material never before used to make vaccines.The process entails injecting a short sequence of viral genetic material to trigger an immune response by producing proteins acting against the virus.At least two other companies - pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and US-based Moderna - are developing vaccines using the same technology, with the latter last week reporting positive preliminary results from clinical trials.Thailand was the first country outside of China to detect the coronavirus infection in mid-January, but has so far reported just over 3,000 cases and 57 deaths.If the tests on the macaques go well, human trials should start in October, said Dr Kiat Ruxrungtham, chair of the Chula Vaccine Research Centre at Chulalongkorn University."Our dream is that low-and middle-income countries should not stay a buyer for our whole lives," he said.AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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