Less than four months after China notified the WHO that it had identified a cluster of pneumonia cases “of unknown cause,” potential vaccines for the novel coronavirus had already begun human testing.
One of the first companies to start phase 1 clinical trials (in humans) was Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, with which the Butantan Institute has signed an agreement to participate in phase 3 testing. Another promising candidate, being developed by researchers from the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, will be tested on Brazilian, South African, and British volunteers. At the end of June, 17 alternatives were undergoing human trials.
Many vaccines are being tested in Brazil not due to its long history in immunology and vaccine production, but because it has recorded the most cases in the last month, reaching more than 1.4 million confirmed infections and 60,000 deaths. Testing in a region with a high number of infections is essential for proving (or disproving) the efficacy and efficiency of a vaccine, alongside other important development parameters.
Never before has so much time and money been directed towards obtaining a vaccine, of which there is no guaranteed success. It is not yet known whether a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is even possible, or for how long it would be able to offer immunity. To add to the complexity, this ambitious undertaking is being attempted in record time—the most optimistic estimates are suggesting a vaccine could be ready by mid-2021. Any successful candidate, even if its coverage were less than ideal, would be a major achievement for science.
Since our last issue, the pandemic has surpassed two almost unimaginable milestones: more than 10 million people have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, and it has taken the lives of 500,000 human beings. Pesquisa FAPESP looks at the challenge of immunization in a series of articles beginning on page 18, including the main vaccine candidates, Brazilian initiatives developing second-generation vaccines, and the range of techniques being used.
Research efforts in São Paulo, Brazil, and worldwide looking at ways of fighting the novel coronavirus are the subject of reports on pages 35, 32, and 38, respectively. The coverage also features an article on a concerning problem: the increase in violence against women during lockdown. The difficulties of deciding when and how to reopen schools are addressed on page 48.
Journalist Carlos Fioravanti had more than 10 years of experience covering science, technology, and the environment when in 1997 he was invited to contribute to the Notícias FAPESP newsletter, produced by the Foundation since 1995. In 1999, the newsletter became the Pesquisa FAPESP journal, with a bigger audience and broader objectives, and Fioravanti assumed the position of scientific editor. He has been a special editor since 2007, writing articles for all of the journal’s sections, for which he has received several awards. In June, he received the most important recognition afforded to professionals reporting on science in Brazil: the CNPq’s José Reis Award for Science and Technology Communication. The panel of judges for the 40th edition of the award highlighted “the creative and literary quality of the journalistic narratives expressed over the course of his career” and recognized his “contribution to the strengthening of scientific journalism in Brazil.” In 2000, FAPESP received the José Reis Award in the Communication Institution and Media category.Republish