It’s leveraging expertise to respond more quickly to outbreaks by “pivoting to work together,” said Jean Patterson, lead program officer for the CREID network.
Researchers can use a prototype pathogen approach to study how and where infectious diseases emerge from wildlife to make the leap into people. Reporting from 10 centers in the US and 28 other countries, scientists are developing diagnostic, therapeutic, and vaccine families that can be targeted and deployed faster the next time a “Pathogen X” unleashes into the world.
Krammer, who did not respond to interview requests, has speculated that new vaccines could be developed just 3 weeks after discovering a new virus, and could be used immediately in a phase 3 trial — vaulting past phase 1-2 trials. “Since a correlate of production was determined for a closely related virus, the correlate can be used to measure vaccine efficacy,” he writes.
Then, results from the clinical trial could be available close to 3 months later. And while clinical trials are underway, production could be ramped up globally and distribution chains activated in advance, so at that 3-month mark, vaccine rollout could start right away, he suggests.
New world records would be set. And in the event the virus that emerges is identical or nearly indistinguishable to one of the developed vaccines, existing stockpiles could already be used for phase 3 trials, which would buy even more time.
But how fast is too fast?
Wang, now a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says he’s not sure if doing a number of phase 1 and 2 trials on related viruses would be enough to replace initial studies for a vaccine for a new pathogen.
More investment into the understanding of immune response to a wide range of viruses will help inform future vaccine development, but the timeline proposed for the phase 3 trial would be an absolute best case scenario, he says. “And it is highly dependent on the rate of infection at the sites selected for the vaccine studies,” he says. In the Oxford AstraZeneca studies, there were concerns early on over whether there would be enough cases to gather evidence given the low rate of infection in the UK over the summer.
“For a virus that spreads less efficiently than SARSCoV-2, it may take significantly longer for enough events to occur in the vaccine population to evaluate efficacy,” says Wang.