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Vaccines and sharks

A compound extracted from the livers of sharks is used in five coronavirus vaccine candidates

Vova Krasilnikov / Pexels

The production of billions of vaccines to immunize the global population against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, could lead to the capture of 500,000 sharks. This is the warning issued by non-governmental organization (NGO) Shark Allies, based in the USA. Some of the novel coronavirus vaccine candidates use an ingredient called squalene, the main source of which is an oil produced in shark livers. The compound is used by the pharmaceutical industry to make adjuvants, used to enhance the immune response generated by vaccines. Squalene is also found in some vegetables, such as olives and palm, but extraction from these sources is more expensive. “Pharmaceutical laboratories have traditionally used shark squalene to produce flu vaccines,” biologist Stephanie Brendl from Shark Allies told Pesquisa FAPESP. “Because the current and potential future coronavirus pandemics are a global problem, with billions of people needing to be vaccinated every year, the amount of squalene needed for vaccine production will be significant.” There are more than two hundred SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates under development. Roughly 20 of them use adjuvants—five of which use squalene, according to Shark Allies. The candidates in question are developed by French pharmaceutical Sanofi Pasteur; the University of Queensland with Australian biopharmaceutical firm CSL; Chinese company Clover Biopharmaceuticals; Canadian biotechnology company Medicago; and the Farmacologicos Veterinarios SAC laboratory and Cayetano Heredia University, both in Peru.