Early trials for Singapore coronavirus vaccine could come next month


Scientists in Singapore are developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, with hopes that early-stage clinical trials could come as soon as next month, according to a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School.

Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School are currently working on a vaccine which will be similar to the one that biotechnology firm Moderna is developing, but will be “more advanced,” Wang Linfa, professor and director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases program at Duke-NUS Medical School told CNBC on Wednesday. 

He added that he was “hopeful” that Phase 1 clinical trials could begin in one to two months time.

Moderna’s vaccine reported positive data in its early-stage coronavirus vaccine trial on Monday. 

Meanwhile, a test kit developed by the medical school could be a “game changer” in the fight against Covid-19 by detecting coronavirus antibodies in an hour, according a press release citing Professor Patrick Casey, Senior Vice Dean of Research at Duke-NUS that was released last week. 

The antibody test named cPass can determine whether a person has previously been infected with the coronavirus in one hour, instead of days, without the need for “live biological materials” and a “biocontainment facility”, according to the press release. 

This means the test can be used in hospitals and most research or clinical labs. 

The body produces many different types of antibodies when infected by a virus, but not all of them can neutralize the virus. cPass can measure these neutralizing bodies — the “most important antibodies,” Wang, who also led the team that developed the test kit, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday. 

Antibody tests — also known as serological testing — had been used to establish a link between 2 Covid-19 clusters in Singapore in February

The new test is not targeted at rapid and early detection, but rather, aimed at confirmation of the infection, Wang said. 

That would allow it to be used in areas including contact tracing and assessment of herd immunity , contributing to wider efforts in the fight against Covid-19. 

Herd immunity refers to a situation where sufficient people in a population have become immune to a disease such that it effectively stops the disease from spreading.

The test kit is now available in Singapore hospitals following provisional authorization by local authorities, and has obtained similar approval from the EU. Currently, it is awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., Wang said. 

The test would be available commercially, but Wang said they were looking at how philanthropic and international organizations could aid with cost reductions or help with free distribution.

And in parallel, scientists at the school are also developing therapeutics.

“So you have these 3 arms really to fight and combat Covid-19 — first class diagnostics, therapeutics and a vaccine, and we’re doing all of them,” Wang added. 



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