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The number of infections with the novel SARS-Co-Virus 2 corona virus is rising constantly. Scientists around the world are working hard to find cures and vaccines. Virologists and epidemiologists repeatedly insist that the course of the pandemic will largely depend on how quickly drugs or vaccines are developed.

Right now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany are potentially on the verge of a breakthrough. In at least one Phase III study, they aim to find out whether their VPM1002 vaccine candidate (originally developed against Tuberculosis) is also effective against this corona infection. The study is to be carried out at several hospitals in Germany. Volunteer test subjects will be elderly people as well as healthcare professionals who are most at risk of infection.

Basis for the vaccine has existed for almost 100 years

The basis for this substance is a vaccine called BCG. This has been around since the beginning of the 20th century. It has been shown in studies on mice that it can protect not just against tuberculosis. But that it can prevent viral infections in the respiratory tract as well. There are also indications from The Netherlands and Great Britain that BGC could help as a so-called bystander vaccine to prevent the novel corona virus. Vaccination with BCG might therefore activate the immune system and thereby protect against infection. Or at least reduce the progression of Covid-19 illness and lower the death rate.

The VPM1002 vaccine contains weakened Tuberculosis-like bacteria that are genetically modified so that immune cells can better able to recognize them. The new vaccine is intended for use in babies, but also as a booster vaccination in adults. According to recent studies, VPM1002 can even prevent bladder tumors from returning in cancer patients.

Safe and more effective than standard vaccines

The vaccine is currently being tested in adult volunteers in another Phase III study currently underway in India. That is scheduled to run until mid 2020. “The results so far show that vaccination with VPM1002 is safe and more effective than standard vaccinations using BCG.” So says Stefan H.E. Kaufmann from the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology.

The higher safety profile of VPM1002 and its improved efficacy now give rise to hopes that the new vaccine will also be better able to ease the symptoms of an infection caused by SARS co-virus 2 than the BCG vaccine. “In addition, VPM1002 can be manufactured using state-of-the-art production methods,” said Adar C. Poonawalla, the manufacturer and CEO of Serum Institute of India. “This would make it possible to provide millions of doses within a very short time.”

In discussions with authorities

Promising discussions are currently being held with the regulatory authorities to conduct a Phase III study in Germany. This aims to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine in elderly people and healthcare workers. “These population groups are most affected by the current pandemic,” said Leander Grode, CEO of VPM. “Therefore they would especially benefit from a vaccination with VPM1002.”

If successful, the scientists explains VPM1002 could help ease the burden on healthcare systems until a vaccine specifically effective against SARS-CoV-2 becomes available.