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(pleasant synth music) – Scientists at the National
Institutes of Health are working to create a
vaccine for the new coronavirus that originated in China, but they’re not starting from scratch. They’re employing an approach called Vaccine Rapid Response Platforms. It involves high-tech methods
that have the potential to shave years off of development time. Ideally, they’d offer protection while an epidemic is still
spreading instead of years later. Within weeks of the world
learning about the Wuhan outbreak, Chinese scientists uploaded
the novel coronavirus’ genetic sequence to a public database. That allowed teams around the world to start designing a vaccine. Traditional methods require
an actual sample of the virus. Typically, scientists inactivate a virus using special chemicals before
it’s put into a vaccine. When the inactivated or weakened virus is injected into the body, the
immune system recognizes it as a foreign invader or an antigen. Vaccines use antigens to prime the body to protect against a particular virus, but vaccines developed with Rapid Response
Platforms work differently. Rather than directly injecting
antigens into the body, these types of vaccines
typically send instructions to cells in the body. It gets the cells to
produce antigen proteins that are specific to the
virus it’s designed to defeat. These instructions are in
the form of RNA or DNA, the molecules that contain the
code for building proteins. Scientists say this process
cuts down on development time because they don’t have
to grow the whole virus. Plus, once scientists identify
and create the instructions for one virus, they can
tweak those instructions to make a vaccine for a similar virus. – So think of the backbone
as a cassette player and the new virus sequence of our target, like from the new coronavirus, that sequence that we design, and think of it as a new cassette tape, so we can just slot it in. – You can slot in new virus antigens. – [Jason] Melanie Saville is the Director of Vaccine Research and Development at the Coalition for
Epidemic Preparedness. CEPI is a global partnership that was launched at Davos in 2017. – We were actually formed specifically to look at this type of situation. – [Jason] In this situation, the emergence of a new coronavirus, CEPI’s funding several
teams from around the world that Saville says are
each independently working from the platform model. – The sort of technologies
that we are looking at, some of which are really quite pioneering, can really move very quickly. (pleasant orchestral music) – [Jason] Three of the candidates are in a category called
nucleic acid vaccines. One of those candidates is Moderna, which is working with the NIH. They’re developing a vaccine on a platform that uses a part of
the virus’ genetic code called messenger RNA or mRNA, so again, unlike the
conventional approach, with mRNA vaccine platforms, it’s our own body’s cells
rather than lab techs that produce the antigen proteins that are like the ones
made by the coronavirus. – Your immune system
then will be stimulated and develop antibodies to the virus so that when you see it again, it can immediately recognize the virus and prevent you from becoming sick. – [Jason] More and more
people are becoming sick from the novel coronavirus. As the race for a viable
vaccine continues, public health officials don’t know how bad the situation will be
by the time they hope to have a vaccine ready for
widespread distribution. – Normally, vaccines would take years to get into the clinic, so
the sort of technologies that we are looking at can
really move very quickly. So an example of that is
getting from identifying the sequence of the virus
to developing a vaccine, doing all of the pre-clinical testing, manufacturing, and getting
into the clinic in 16 weeks. – [Jason] So, around four months. During the 2003 SARS outbreak,
that process took 20 months. Experts say if one of the
four teams CEPI is funding is successful, it would a
watershed moment for human health. – These are very promising candidates, but they’re still quite early days.

Reynold King

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