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This new Covid-19 vaccine over 80% effective against virus may end patent war soon

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Texas scientists are developing a new Covid-19 vaccine using a decades-old traditional technology that will make production and distribution cheaper and more accessible for nations most hit by the pandemic and where new variants are more likely to emerge due to low vaccination rates.

Since 2011, the team, led by Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Bottazzi of Baylor College of Medicine’s Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, has been developing vaccine prototypes for Sars and Mers, which they reproduced to create the new Covid vaccine, dubbed Corbevax, or “the world’s Covid-19 vaccine.”

Despite the fact that more than 60 additional vaccines are being developed using the same technology, Bottazzi claims that their vaccine is unique in that it will not be patented, allowing anyone with the ability to remake it.

“Pretty much anybody that can make hepatitis B vaccines or has the capacity to produce microbial-based protein like bacteria or yeast, can replicate what we do,” Bottazzi said.

Due to a lack of resources, Corbevax’s clinical trial data has yet to be revealed, although Texas Children’s Hospital reported that the vaccine was over 90 percent effective against the original Covid-19 strain and over 80 percent effective against the Delta variant. Efficacy of the vaccine against the Omicron strain is currently being investigated.

The vaccine is made using yeast, which is the same technology used to make hepatitis B vaccinations.

The Corbevax vaccine is based on recombinant protein sub-unit technology, which involves implanting a fragment of Covid-19’s spike protein into yeast cells. The essential protein is subsequently copied by yeast cells and introduced to the immune system.

“We make the protein, directly and synthetically, in the lab using the yeast system,” Bottazzi explained. “We ask the yeast to make a protein that looks just like a protein that is made by the virus. Then we immunize the protein and the body then processes this protein and presents it to the immune system. Therefore, you don’t ask your body to do any major manipulation of the coding.”

Importantly, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage in transit, the Corbevax vaccine only requires normal refrigeration.

Bottazzi’s team has a long-standing connection with Biological E, an Indian pharmaceutical business that specializes in hepatitis B vaccinations. Biological E has already manufactured 150 million doses of the new Corbevax vaccine and will soon be able to generate 100 million doses each month.

After being turned down for funding by government agencies, the developers of Corbevax had to rely on charity donations to push them to the finish line, according to Bottazzi. Although the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development is primarily an academic and scientific organization, Bottazzi remarked that developing Corbevax required them to stretch their resources in order to achieve exposure as a serious candidate for Covid vaccine development.

“We ourselves are learning how to do work that is regulatory-enabling, that enables good quality, good reproduction, good record-keeping … we mimic as if we were a small biotech or manufacturing entity,” she said. “Every technology has pros and cons. Nobody is claiming one is the super-duper, only solution. All the [vaccines] are part of the solution. But when you have a situation of such gravity around the world, you don’t pick and choose a solution – you try to use all solutions,” Bottazzi said.

Bottazzi explained that she and her colleagues chose not to patent the vaccine because of their common ideology of humanitarianism and willingness to collaborate with other scientists.

“We want to do good in the world. This was the right thing to do and this is what we morally had to do. We didn’t even blink. We didn’t think, ‘how can we take advantage of this?’ You see now that if more like us would have been more attuned to how the world is so inequitable and how we could have helped from the beginning so many places around the world without thinking ‘what’s going to be in it for me?’, we could have basically not even seen these variants arise.”

Bottazzi expects that by taking this step, others may be inspired to follow suit and develop vaccinations for additional diseases and viruses, such as hookworm.

“We need to break these paradigms that it’s only driven by economic impact factors or return of economic investment. We have to look at the return in public health.”

Image Credit: Getty

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