Vaccine or cure? RI researcher reflects on efforts to defeat coronavirus in lab

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As medical supplies are running low, the amount of coronavirus cases nearing one million worldwide, and unprecedented social measures being taken around the globe, questions continue to swirl around whether a vaccine will be developed in time to prevent further spread of the virus.

This comes as hospitals across the United States are expecting a surge in patients over the next few weeks.

Dr. Lenny Moise works as the director of vaccine research at the providence-based company Epivax.

His company has been working tirelessly with other vaccine developers around the world looking for a vaccine.

It turns out, one vaccine is already in the clinical stages, but researchers are continuing the hard work and leaving no stone un-turned.

“It is amazing how fast it went to trial in 63 days from beginning to trial is a record,” Moise said. “The vaccine community has mobilized in unprecedented force.”

The vaccine is in the early stages of trials.

The FDA splits its trials into three phases, with the first looking into safety, the second looking into the immune response, and the third looking into the efficacy rate.

It may sound simple but it’s a process that Moise said takes a while, even under ideal circumstances.

“I would not expect for a vaccine to be licensed for at least another year,” he said. “This is expedited. There’s no way to expedite it even more.”

Dr. Moise is currently working with other researchers on another possible vaccine that is protein-based.

But what’s interesting about the vaccine currently in trials is that it’s a new-age way of attacking the molecules in a virus.

The vaccine is RNA-based and if it gets approved it would make medical history.

“There are no licensed RNA vaccines yet. Maybe this will be the first,” he said.

We’re still looking at around 12 to 18 months before a vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus is developed. However, there is hope in a possible cure.

The drugs that could cure patients of coronavirus are called therapeutics.

Some of these drugs like hydroxychloriquine are already approved to attack other viruses, and researchers are looking into whether it would have any effect on covid-19.

“Therapeutics are under development and those could be approved sooner than a vaccine,” Moise said. “A vaccine could take longer because we are starting from scratch.”

He adds that when dealing with this kind of coronavirus it has the potential to mutate, but researchers don’t believe that is a threat at the moment.

“What we’ve seen so far about covid-19 is that it mutates slowly. What we can tell is that it’s not mutating rapidly like flu,” he said.

Rumors have been swirling around whether the virus spread will slow down once warmer weather hits.

Dr. Moise along with other researchers are hoping that’s the case, but they won’t know how the virus will react until we get there.

“There are some parts of the globe that are warmer than here in New England and there’s tremendous spread as well,” Moise added.”

Dr. Moise said while researchers do their jobs in developing either a vaccine or a cure, people can prevent the spread of the disease by exercising social distancing.

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