Local biotech companies discuss efforts to develop coronavirus vaccines

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — Leaders of San Diego-area biotech companies came together Friday to discuss their efforts to develop vaccines for the coronavirus with a push toward clinical trials in the race to stop the virus.

Organizations featured during a Friday afternoon news conference at San Diego City Hall included Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Arcturus Therapeutics, which are developing vaccines, and UC San Diego Health, which is conducting clinical trials on drugs to treat symptoms of the coronavirus, with future plans for vaccine trials.

Kate Broderick, Inovio’s senior vice president of research and development, said human clinical trials on their vaccine were slated to begin in about two weeks.

Broderick said Inovio has been working on a vaccine since January, when the company received the virus’ genetic sequence from Chinese authorities.

The company has completed testing on its vaccine, and “we’re very happy with the results that we’ve seen thus far,” Broderick said

Broderick said the company’s goal is to have one million doses of the vaccine ready by the end of the year, though cautioned that figure would not be enough to vaccinate all of San Diego, much less provide nationwide or worldwide coverage.

Arcturus Therapeutics, which received a $10 million grant this month from the government of Singapore for vaccine development, is also preparing for clinical trials in the near future.

Joseph Payne, Arcutus CEO, said its vaccine works at a very low dose and would potentially be a single-shot vaccine, making it “logistically more simple to distribute” than a vaccine requiring booster shots.

Payne highlighted the unprecedented demand at present for a COVID-19 vaccine, saying “This is not going to be a single-company effort. This is a colossal undertaking.”

Broderick said a realistic distribution timeline for the “first batch” of the vaccine would be sometime in the next six to 12 months, with another six to 12 months before the vaccines would be ready for “widespread distribution.”

Payne said distribution and availability of many of the vaccines will be dependent on multiple unknown factors, including biotech companies managing a variety of different countries’ regulatory agencies.

From UC San Diego Health, Robert Schooley, co-director of the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics, said the university has initiated clinical trials on an antiviral drug for COVID-19 patients, while trials on another drug aimed at treating COVID-19’s inflammatory effects are slated to begin next week.

Schooley said UC San Diego Health is working with Inovio, Arcturus, and other San Diego biotech companies on developing vaccines and conducting vaccine trials.

Meanwhile, on the diagnostic test front, several San Diego companies have been fast-tracked by the FDA for approval to use their test to diagnose COVID-19. Among those companies are Mesa Biotech, Hologic Inc. and Quidel Corp. in San Diego, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. and GenMark in Carlsbad.

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