The need for human coronaviruses vaccines was first identified in the mid-1960s. The best-known coronaviruses are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and a new virus, named 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).  

In response to the current 2019-nCoV virus outbreak, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the NIAID said in a statement on January 23, 2020, "The emergence of yet another human disease caused by a pathogen from a viral family formerly thought to be relatively benign underscores the perpetual challenge of emerging infectious diseases and the importance of sustained preparedness."

As of January 28, 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any preventive or therapeutic vaccine for SARS, MERS or 2019-nCoV for us in the USA. Updated vaccine news can be found at this Precision Vaccinations webpage.

Coronavirus Vaccine Candidates

The following list contains vaccine candidates currently in human clinical trials, as well as pre-human vaccine strategies.

  • An mRNA vaccine targeting the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been urgently approved, said Shanghai East Hospital of Tongji University. The vaccine candidate will be co-developed by the hospital and Stermirna Therapeutics Co., Ltd. Li Hangwen, CEO of Stermirna Therapeutics, said 'no more than 40 days will be needed to manufacture the vaccine samples based on the new generation of mRNA technology and some preliminary procedures.'
  • GeoVax Labs, Inc. announced the signing of a Letter of Intent to jointly develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus (known as 2019-nCoV). Under the collaboration, GeoVax will use its MVA-VLP vaccine platform and expertise to design and construct the vaccine candidate using genetic sequences from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan, China. BravoVax will provide further development, including testing and manufacturing support, as well as direct interactions with Chinese public health and regulatory authorities.
  • INO-4700 is a DNA plasmid vaccine that expresses the MERS CoV spike (S) glycoprotein. Inovio expects to advance INO-4700 into a Phase 2 field study in the Middle East and Africa where outbreaks have been observed, with full funding from CEPI. On January 6, 2020, the company says this is the most advanced vaccine candidate for MERS. The Wistar Institute announced January 23, 2019, that they are part of the Inovio team. Wistar brings the experience and suitability of its DNA technology platform to rapidly translate a vaccine against an emerging virus.
  • GLS-5300 MERS-CoV Vaccine - The GLS-5300 MERS-CoV product is a DNA vaccine candidate, which allows for rapid design and production in response to emerging infectious diseases. Underscoring the potential for rapid deployment of DNA vaccines, GLS-5300 was advanced into the clinic within nine months of preclinical vaccine candidate selection. GLS-5300 was co-developed by GeneOne Life Science Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals. GLS-5300 is administered intramuscularly using the CELLECTRA® delivery device. A July 24, 2019, Phase 1 first-in-human clinical trial. Initial findings from the trial were published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
  • ChAdOx1 MERS-CoV Vaccine - ChAdOx1 MERS is a vaccine candidate to treat Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine consists of the replication-deficient simian adenovirus vector ChAdOx1, containing the MERS Spike protein antigen. The first-in-human trial is now being conducted in Oxford in UK healthy adult volunteers. The vaccine will be administered intramuscularly. This is an open-label, dose-escalation phase 1b trial to assess the safety and immunogenicity of the candidate ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine in healthy Middle Eastern adult volunteers aged 18-50. 
  • Novavax, Inc. had developed a vaccine for MERS in 2013. Its successful history with coronavirus makes the company a potential winner in case of an outbreak caused by the new coronavirus. The company has also started developing a vaccine for the same. 
  • Moderna Inc. announced in an SEC filing on January 21, 2020, they are working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) a new collaboration to develop an mRNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Moderna’s technology platform, combined with a multi-year relationship with the NIH, including exploring ways to respond to public health threats, allows for the rapid identification and advancement of a vaccine candidate against 2019-nCoV.
  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has awarded Inovio a grant of up to $9 million to develop a vaccine against the recently emerged strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The latest grant was aimed at funding development of Inovio’s INO-4800, through phase 1 human testing.
  • Dr. Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer said to CNBC he believes the drugmaker can create a vaccine in the coming months to fight against the fast-spreading coronavirus. Dr. Stoffels said the pharmaceutical company needed to start from scratch on this vaccine, much like how it operated in the Zika outbreak. Though Johnson & Johnson could shave two to three months off of that due to technological advances, he said. “We are going to take an approach with at least five different constructs and different partners and collaborations all over the world in order to see which part of the virus we can use to make an effective vaccine and develop a model that we can invest in."
  • MERS-CoV RBD Vaccine candidate (RBD219-N1) -  Baylor College of Medicine's MERS vaccine development started in 2011 with support from the NIAID/NIH and in partnership with the New York Blood Center, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Immune Design, a therapeutic vaccine product development company. The group has successfully manufactured, under cGMP, the first receptor binding protein antigen against SARS-CoV, the SARS-CoV RBD Vaccine. Like the SARS-CoV RBD Vaccine, the comparative advantage of the MERS-CoV RBD Vaccine is its efficacy in terms of eliciting protective neutralizing antibodies together with its safety in terms of maximal reduction of eosinophilic immune enhancement. NIH - Optimization of the Production Process and Characterization of the Yeast-Expressed SARS-CoV Recombinant Receptor-Binding Domain (RBD219-N1), a SARS Vaccine Candidate.
  • The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre, also known as VIDO-InterVac, has received permission from the Public Health Agency of Canada to focus on the 2019-nCoV threat.
  • The University of Queensland has been commissioned to fast-track a vaccine to help control the new coronavirus outbreak. Queensland is one of three groups commissioned to develop a vaccine against the virus, known as nCoV-2019, by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Paul Young, head of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said the university had developed a new way to rapidly generate vaccines from analyses of viruses’ genetic sequence information. He said the team hoped to develop a vaccine in the next six months for distribution to first responders, helping to prevent medics from becoming infected and accelerating the disease’s spread. Dr. Keith Chappell, from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said the key to the speedy development of this potential vaccine was the 'molecular clamp' technology, invented by UQ scientists and patented by UniQuest.
  • Aethlon Medical Inc. is the developer of the patented Aethlon Hemopurifier, a clinical-stage immunotherapeutic device that removes exosomes and life-threatening viruses from the human circulatory system. The U.S. HHS has established an initiative to support platform technology medical countermeasures with broad-spectrum capabilities. Based on preclinical studies and human treatment experiences, the Aethlon Hemopurifier® defines this initiative. To date, Hemopurifier therapy has been administered to individuals infected with the Ebola virus, Hepatitis C virus, and the HIV. In the case of Ebola, a remarkable response to a single administration of Hemopurifier therapy, comatose physician with multiple organ failure at the time.

Coronavirus Vaccine History

The emergence of a highly pathogenic human coronavirus in the Middle East has sparked new interest in human coronaviruses around the world. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was identified in 2012, almost 10 years after the highly fatal human severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged from China in 2003. Over the past 10 years, much has been learned about highly pathogenic coronaviruses from the investigation of SARS-CoV, which aids in our efforts to combat MERS-CoV; however, gaps in our understanding remain.

The emergence of both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV has highlighted the Coronaviridae as a potentially important human pathogenic virus.

Previous efforts to create a vaccine for SARS-CoV have utilized a number of approaches. In general, the potential vaccines can be classified into six types: viral vector-based vaccine, DNA vaccine, subunit vaccine, nanoparticle-based vaccine, inactivated-whole virus vaccine and live-attenuated vaccine, which are discussed in detail.

Vaccines based on whole, inactivated SARS-CoV, spike subunits, recombinant viruses expressing SARS-CoV proteins, DNA plasmids expressing SARS-CoV proteins, or virus-like particles (VLPs) have all been tested in vitro and in vivo. Research on MERS-CoV vaccination strategies is in the early stages, and there are no approved vaccines for MERS-CoV. However, early studies using a modified vaccinia virus and spike subunit vaccines have been shown to induce MERS-CoV-neutralizing antibodies in mice.

An effective MERS-CoV vaccine is required to induce both robust humoral and cell-mediated immunities, particularly antibody responses are crucial for the survival of the vaccinated hosts (Du et al., 2016b). Previous studies indicated that the level of serum neutralizing antibodies correlated positively with the reduction of lung pathogenesis, which increased the survival of animals challenged with MERS-CoV (Zhao et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2016). In general, most of the potential MERS-CoV vaccine candidates were able to elicit systemic antibody responses, producing high titer of serum IgG upon immunization, but many failed to generate sufficient mucosal immunity unless the vaccines were administered via a mucosal or intranasal route. Activation of mucosal immunity is heavily dependent on the route of immunization, and this is a common challenge in vaccine development for many respiratory pathogens (Ma et al., 2014a; Guo et al., 2015). 

Therefore, most of the MERS-CoV vaccine candidates are still based on the full length or part of the S protein.

To date, no vaccine has been licensed to prevent MERS-CoV infection. Although several vaccine candidates are currently in clinical trials, many still remain in the pre-clinical stage. Current approaches for the development of MERS-CoV vaccines are mostly referred to the methods used for the development of SARS-CoV vaccines during the past two decades, which include: viral vector-based vaccine, DNA vaccine, subunit vaccine, virus-like particles (VLPs)-based vaccine, inactivated whole-virus (IWV) vaccine and live attenuated vaccine.

In general, subunit vaccines have the highest safety profile among all current vaccines despite their low immunogenicities (Du et al., 2016b). Precautions should be taken during the development of MERS-CoV vaccines based on the S protein to avoid the induction of non-neutralizing antibodies. Unlike the full-length S protein, RBD of MERS-CoV comprises the critical neutralizing domains but lacking the non-neutralizing immunodominant region. Therefore, upon immunization, the RBD-based vaccines are restricted to produce RBD-specific neutralizing immune responses, thus are incapable of inducing non-neutralizing antibodies that may potentially contribute to harmful pathological effects (Du and Jiang, 2015; Wang et al., 2015a). 

What Makes an Effective MERS-CoV Vaccine

Two viral proteins of MERS-CoV, S and N proteins, were demonstrated to be highly effective and capable of eliciting T-cell responses. T-cell responses support the immune response to foreign substances in the body. However, only S protein was shown to induce neutralizing antibodies, the critical effectors against MERS-CoV (Agnihothram et al., 2014). Notably, N protein had also been proposed to be a potential protective immunogen for both neutralizing antibodies and T-cell immune responses through in silico approaches (Shi et al., 2015).

Despite the prediction, no biological data have been presented thus far. Another potential B cell epitope of the MERS-CoV E protein was identified recently using in silico methods, yet similarly, no biological data were presented (Xie et al., 2018). Therefore, most of the MERS-CoV vaccine candidates are still based on the full length or part of the S protein.

Coronavirus Treatment

There are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses. Most people with common human coronavirus illness will recover on their own, says the CDC. However, you can do some things to relieve your symptoms:

  • take pain and fever medications (Caution: do not give Aspirin to children)
  • use a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough

If you are mildly sick, you should

  • drink plenty of liquids
  • stay home and rest

If you are concerned about your symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider asap.

Coronavirus FAQs

To date, health officials do not know how humans have become infected with this virus. Investigations are underway to determine the virus source, types of exposure that lead to infection, mode of transmission and the clinical pattern and course of the disease. And, the World Health Organization has listed it as a top target for vaccine development by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Coronavirus Vaccine News

Content sources include the World Health Organization, the CDC, industry studies and the Precision news network. Fact-Checked by Dr. Robert Carlson and other healthcare professionals.

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