Spanish Scientist Leads COVID-19 Vaccine Development
Introducing Luis Enjuanes Sánchez
Luis Enjuanes Sánchez is a renowned Spanish virologist who heads the Coronavirus Laboratory at the National Center for Biotechnology in Madrid, which falls under the supervision of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC). He is the key person responsible for designing and developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. With numerous patents under his belt, Professor Enjuanes is considered a brilliant mind in the field of Virology.
Enjuanes’ Upcoming Talk
This Thursday, the 15th of October, Professor Luis Enjuanes Sánchez will be speaking at a round table organized by the Royal Academy of Medicine of Asturias, in Oviedo. Together with Professors Francisco V. Álvarez Menéndez and Carlos López Larrea from the University of Oviedo, he will be discussing pathogenic human coronaviruses, their origins, evolution, and vaccines. The event is being held in honor of the late Asturian researcher Agustín Costa García, who passed away in November 2019, and will be held in the assembly hall of the College of Physicians of Asturias.
Advancements in COVID-19 Vaccine
In a recent interview, Professor Enjuanes shared that although the development process is going relatively slowly, they are making serious and methodical progress. He is happy to report that his vaccine has successfully reproduced high levels of protection, resulting in two newly registered patents. The vaccine is designed to provide sterilizing protection, which means that it offers complete protection in their experimental animal model (mice).
Vaccine Development Strategy
The vaccine development strategy that Professor Enjuanes and his team are pursuing involves transnasal vaccination, which aims to protect the respiratory mucosa that is specifically targeted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. By vaccinating through the mucosa, the quality of the vaccination is greatly enhanced, resulting in better protection.
The Complexity of Enjuanes’ Vaccine
Enjuanes shared that his vaccine is a self-amplifying vaccine, making it more complex than many others. The RNA in the vaccine can be amplified up to a thousand times, making it robust and highly effective. The vaccine encodes multiple antigens, further enhancing its potency.
Current Phase of Development
Currently, the vaccine is in the “scale-up” phase, where the production is being increased to commercial levels. Additionally, efforts continue to ensure that all pharmaceutical practices followed to produce the vaccine strictly follow the good manufacturing practice (GMP) protocols.
New Vaccine Development
Developing a vaccine has been key to controlling the spread of COVID-19, but when can we expect the next big breakthrough? According to Dr. Luis Enjuanes, head of coronavirus research at the National Center for Biotechnology in Spain, the answer is not for another year.
Preclinical Testing Phase
Dr. Enjuanes explains that first, preclinical testing must be conducted in three experimental animal models: mice, hamsters, and macaque monkeys. Although some experiments have already been done in humanized mice and hamsters, funding from the Spanish Government, the EU, and the United States are required to complete the testing in macaque monkeys. If successful, the vaccine will move on to human testing, which includes three phases.
Human Testing Phases
The first phase will only involve 20 to 40 people, but the second and third phases, to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness, safety, and level of protection, need 20,000 people, and it requires significant funding and the cooperation of governments and multinational corporations.
Competitive Vaccine Market
Dr. Enjuanes acknowledges that geopolitical and economic considerations also influence the development of a vaccine, and several official institutions and multinationals have to push the project forward. He adds that even with the development of a vaccine, challenges remain, such as vaccine distribution in countries with limited resources, and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.
Improvements in Vaccine Design
So what improvements in vaccine design can we expect? Dr. Enjuanes said their vaccine includes several antigens, which is crucial in preventing the virus from overcoming resistance from a single antigen. The self-amplified power of their vaccine is also higher, and the route of administration, intranasal, is more effective in reaching parts of the body where the virus will infect. Additionally, their vaccine is updated for current and previous variants, offering long-lasting protection.
Potential for Future Updates
While reinfection is possible with current vaccines, Dr. Enjuanes notes that when the potency of the vaccine is increased and given intranasally, the vaccine’s effectiveness will improve. He also states that like the flu vaccine, which requires yearly updates as the virus evolves, their vaccine could also require periodic updates.
Although there have been recent breakthroughs in vaccine development, Dr. Enjuanes reminds us that vaccine development requires time and resources, and a competitive market adds pressure to the process. Despite these challenges, he holds hope that improvements in vaccine design and distribution will help end the global pandemic for good.
The Impact of Vaccines on the Spread of COVID-19 in Advanced Countries
Thanks to widespread vaccinations, the situation in hospitals in advanced countries has vastly improved in comparison to the previous waves of COVID-19. Spain, for example, has over 92 percent of its population vaccinated, resulting in a high level of protection. However, despite this, the virus is still circulating at a high speed. The emergence of new variants, such as the Omicron variant, is also noted to be more attenuated. It is important to keep in mind that the virus is still present, and unvaccinated individuals are at risk. Therefore, it is essential for everyone to get vaccinated to prevent further spread.
The Long-Term Outlook for SARS-CoV-2
What will happen to SARS-CoV-2 in the long run?
The historical knowledge of how coronaviruses have developed suggests that this virus is here to stay, based on three factors. Firstly, the virus has the potential to evolve easily. Secondly, there still remains a large unvaccinated population. Finally, there are natural reservoirs of the virus that pose a challenge to control. There are a variety of animals such as raccoons, white-tailed monkeys, and minks that are difficult to vaccinate and hence difficult to control. These natural reservoirs of the virus can make it more challenging to prevent its spread and hence make eradication unlikely.
What are the potential implications of this situation?
Denmark, for instance, had to close down its mink farms, resulting in a significant economic loss as the minks had contracted and spread the virus to human populations. Overall, SARS-CoV-2 is likely to stay, with the potential to continue spreading, although it is expected to become more attenuated as more people become vaccinated.