The CUREVAC company wanted to develop an mRNA vaccine that is cheaper, more efficient and easier to store than the previous ones | Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio / SOPA Images / LightRocket
The dazzling arrival of new messenger RNA vaccines has been a veritable medical revolution in the bleak landscape of COVID-19. Yesterday our health system again broke a vaccination record with more than 700,000 doses in one day, and it is easy to forget that just a year ago we were not even sure of achieving the development of a single vaccine. It is also convenient to remember that, despite the fact that it has become famous in recent months, the first investigations with messenger RNA that now use vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna, dates back to the 1990s and has taken decades to produce their first results.
The apparent speed and great efficiency of these two vaccines based on RNA technology may lead us to believe that their development has been simple and without problems. However, an article published yesterday in Nature reminds us that the road has not been easy at all and the clearest example is called CureVac, the large German pharmaceutical company that is now on the verge of economic bankruptcy.
Everything seemed to indicate that the experience of the first two mRNA vaccines would have its positive reflection on the third candidate. Many of us expected the CureVac proposal to be cheaper and will last longer in refrigerated storage than previous vaccines made by Pfizer or Moderna. In fact, the great hope for many lower-income countries was to expand the reach of vaccines by ordering hundreds of millions of doses … none of that has happened and the CureVac vaccine has been a resounding failure, which Nature itself describes as disappointing .
“The RNA People” CureVac’s catchphrase for its vaccine development | Photo by Artur Widak / NurPhoto
Just a few days ago, on June 16, the German company based in Tübingen announced preliminary data from a trial with 40,000 people in which his two-dose vaccine was barely 47% effective in the prevention of COVID-19. After the statement, the company’s shares plummeted on the stock market: consistent with its effectiveness, the company’s shares fell as much as 45%, but have fallen 60% at times.
CureVac executives attribute the poor results to the large number of coronavirus variants, including emerging ones such as the Lambda variant first detected in Peru, circulating in the ten countries in Europe and Latin America where the company is conducting its trials clinical The results show that out of 124 COVID-19 cases for which scientists obtained a genetic sequence, only one was caused by the original version of SARS-CoV-2, all the others were variants.
However, doesn’t seem like a good excuse since the other two mRNA vaccines are showing remarkable efficiencies against the new variants. In fact, Pfizer’s vaccine using the same technology has offered 92% protection against symptomatic cases of COVID-19 caused by the Alpha variant (first identified in the UK) and 83% protection against the Delta variant (originally created in India).
As the company looks at the new variants, some experts blame the dose and others outright consider the problem to be in the vaccine. No one knows for sure what went wrong with the CureVac vaccine and it is a perfect example of how difficult it can be to come up with the perfect formula for a drug.
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Scientific references and more information:
Dolgin, Elie. “CureVac COVID Vaccine Let-down Spotlights MRNA Design Challenges”. Nature, June 2021, DOI: 10.1038 / d41586-021-01661-0.