Geneticist Oleksandr Kolyada about Coronavirus Vaccine: Features and Prospects
Vaccines are medical products intended to ensure acquired immunity against illnesses. They help humanity to suppress epidemics of measles, influenza, smallpox, and other serious diseases.
How are vaccines created, what kinds of them exist, and how does development of the medication against COVID-19 evolve? Ukrainian geneticist, research associate at the lab of epigenetics at the Institute of Gerontology Oleksandr Kolyada helped us to deep dive into these issues.
COVID-19 Vaccine: mechanism of action and formula
Vaccine usually contains an agent similar to pathogenic organism or its surface proteins and other additives.
According to Oleksandr, the main idea is to familiarize the person’s immune system with a harmless virus or its fragment. This builds a system of quick recognition and neutralization of the pathogen, and the body records the information about it for months, years, or the whole life.
How are vaccines developed?
Oleksandr states that vaccine trial stages on average take 15 years.
“First go pre-clinical studies. They are carried out on animals and cut off medications that are deadly for all living creatures. If the medicine successfully undergoes studies, researchers cautiously start giving it to people at the next stage… The record-breaking 151st vaccine against coronavirus is going through this stage now,” the expert highlights.
Vaccine development scheme usually consists of five stages:
1st stage – pivotal study. Initial research of causative microorganism, determination of the medication structure. Duration – 3 to 5 years;
2nd stage – pre-clinical study. Researchers determine how the medication influences cell cultures and laboratory animals. Duration – up to 2 years;
3rd stage – clinical tests:
- 1st phase – testing of the medication on a small number of people (10 to 30), lasts for around 2 years, but has been sped up greatly in the case of COVID-19;
- 2nd phase – lasts for around 2 years, researchers define efficiency of the medication and dose strength. It usually engages 50-500 participants;
- 3rd phase – testing of the vaccine on thousands of people. Researchers calculate precise dosage and vaccination schedule for different groups of people. Duration – up to 4 years.
- 4th stage – state control and registration of the medication (2 years);
- 5th stage – production.
The scientist says that development of the vaccine against COVID-19 has been sped up greatly and 10 medications against coronavirus are going through the third phase now.
Classification of vaccines
Several types of COVID-19 vaccine are being developed and each one has its pros and cons.
Inactivated vaccines. Medications made up of viral particles grown under controlled conditions that lost the ability to cause illness.
“This scheme is old and trusted, but if the manufacturer works carelessly, the potential neutralization of the virus can take place not to the full,” Oleksandr says.
To ensure efficiency and compensate for a relatively weak response of the immune system, such vaccines use adjuvants – substances that strengthen the body response to the vaccine.
Vaccines based on viral proteins. They stand out for the fact that their production requires not a live virus but its particles.
«To build up immunity, a single distinctive viral protein is sufficient. Gene can be placed in plant or animal cells and they will synthetize the necessary protein in vitro in big quantities,” the scientist emphasizes.
This allows achieving high safety level of production and maintaining efficiency. According to Oleksandr, 12 out of 42 clinically trialed vaccines work like this.
Vectorized vaccines. Production technology relies on the following: protein gene of coronavirus is placed in another virus that is safe for people. This virus supplies the embedded particle to human cells, where the immune response is formed without the illness itself. Ease of use compensates for complexity of production.
“These vaccines have a compelling advantage. They can be used in the form of oral drops or sprays. It allows activating the immunity of the respiratory passages. As a result, the medication works faster in the case of airborne diseases,” the expert reports.
DNA and RNA vaccines. Such vaccine implies full use of human body resources, as the person gets an injection of DNA and RNA of viral protein, which penetrates cells. Then they synthetize distinctive protein and the immune system responds to it. The main difficulty related to use of such medication is the fact that human protective barriers split these molecules while they are approaching cells.
“For this reason, for example, there are plans to use special devices for DNA vaccines, which will push DNA into cells,” Oleksandr explains.
On November 11, Oleksandr Kolyada will make a presentation at Biohacking Conference Kyiv 2020 focusing on approaches to prolongation of life, genes, and pro-longevity microbes, and will explain the difference between biohacking and healthy lifestyle.