Last week, the World Health Organization listed 35 vaccine candidates that were being developed to protect against the novel coronavirus or Covid-19. The ‘draft landscape’ included two Indian companies, Gujarat-based Zydus Cadila and Pune’s Serum Institute, which are in collaboration with America’s Codagenix on the project.

All vaccine candidates are in the pre-clinical stage as the race is on to tackle the virus that has claimed over 3,000 lives globally, even as thousands are quarantined in countries like China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. While a final vaccine is some time away, the Indian companies are moving full steam ahead with their respective technologies.

Dr Gagandeep Kang, Executive Director with the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, told BusinessLine, the list will change as more candidates are added or as candidates move into different phases of testing the vaccine. But the closest candidate is unlikely to be ready before next year, she said, adding, however, that there will be multiple human trials this year. Kang is the Vice-Chairperson of CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), a global alliance that finances and coordinates the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

Pointing out that a vaccine is not something that will happen overnight, Dr Sharvil Patel, Managing Director, Zydus Cadila (Cadila Healthcare Ltd), said that from a national security point of view, it was important for the company to become one of the developers of the vaccine.

Last month, Zydus had announced an accelerated research programme with multiple teams in India and Europe to develop the 2019-nCoV vaccine. “But it (a breakthrough) is about four to six months away. We have to tackle this crisis. Let’s see if we can make an effective vaccine,” he said.

Zydus’s research involves two approaches. The first deals with development of a DNA vaccine against the major viral membrane protein responsible for the cell entry of the novel coronavirus. The second approach involves developing a live attenuated (or weakened) recombinant measles virus-vectored vaccine against Covid-19. The recombinant measles virus (rMV) produced by reverse genetics would express codon-optimised proteins of the novel coronavirus, and will induce long-term neutralising antibodies which will protect from the infection.

Zydus’s Vaccine Technology Centre in India is working on the plasmid DNA vaccine, and in Europe, its research arm Etna Biotech is working on the second approach.

Serum candidate

Explaining the serum candidate, Dr Rajeev Dhere, Executive Director with the vaccine-major, said the company was using a different technology to modify the virus in a way that it was “attenuated”. The “tailor-made” virus would be non-virulent, he explained, and give the human body the “memory of immunology” to help it generate antibodies against the virus. The development is in collaboration with the American biotech firm. Reports quoted Serum Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla as being hopeful of a vaccine in early 2022.

“A live-attenuated vaccine has multiple advantages, including mounting an immune response to multiple antigens of the virus and the ability to scale for mass production,” the two companies had said announcing their collaboration last month.

Codagenix’s technology allows for the rapid generation of multiple vaccine candidates against emerging viruses, starting with only the digital sequence of the viral genome. “Thanks to major advances in the speed and quality of genome sequencing in recent years, in addition to open-source data sharing among scientists and public health agencies around the world, the nCoV genome was available to the public in a matter of days after the virus was first isolated,” the note said, adding that Codagenix has already designed multiple nCoV vaccine candidate genomes using its proprietary deoptimisation technology.