Humanity has always been gripped by the clutches of biological diseases or genetic disorders. The only thing which differs is the seriousness and scale of these diseases. Of late, the world has been encroached by the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have not seen a setback of such a magnitude in decades. Naturally, now is when fast-tracking of vaccines and treatments is considered to be the most crucial.
One must understand that there are production, testing, and regulatory sides to rolling out a vaccine successfully. So fast-tracking does not really mean that one has to compromise on the science, quality, and ethics part of the development of a vaccine. More often than not, it is linked to speeding up the trialing or testing and ensuring faster regulatory clearances. So let’s take an example on similar lines.
In July 2020, The Government Of India gave the nod to speed up the regulations and subsequently, the testing phase for Serum Institute Of India’s COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University. V.K. Paul, a member in NITI Aayog (National Institute of Transforming India), stated:
Notably, Oxford University’s vaccine is anticipated to produce the most promising results, among other vaccines. The University started working on the vaccine right from the early days of the pandemic (well before COVID-19 was even declared as a pandemic). Phase I/II trials conducted in April showed rather promising results. Recently, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approved SII to proceed with Phase 2 and 3 trials of the Oxford-produced vaccine. More recently, the Serum Institute of India (SII) also signed a partnership with GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to sell 100 million doses of the vaccine in low and middle-income countries including India, among others.
However, what if we could find a way to fast-track these vaccines or treatments right from the beginning, that is, the production stage (without having to compromise with the quality of course)?
A new research conducted by experts from the Simon Fraser University provided some groundbreaking ideas. The research which was published in the journal Science showed that for the past few decades, scientists have been producing drug treatments for diseases based on man-made, synthetic, and nucleoside analogues. These drug treatments are developed for diseases that include cellular division or viral replication of infected cells. However, the leading scientist of the research, Robert Britton stated:
So what’s different in the new process which has been established by the research?
Britton claims that based on the findings of the research, scientists can create the nucleoside analogues much faster than the traditional method. This means that the development of the drugs will be swifter than before. Britton stated:
The team also quickened the process by replacing the usage of naturally occurring carbohydrates which are traditionally used for synthesizing new drugs.
Furthermore, the team managed to find an alternative to reduce the overall cost of the production of drugs. The proposed idea is to substitute naturally derived chiral materials with the achiral materials – ensuring a better versatility as well.
The new method offers opportunities that will perhaps encourage fresh and unexpected observations in drug discoveries.
One might argue that this is not an ideal time to try something new. However, it is important to understand that these researches provide groundbreaking ideas not only for the current situation but for any adverse situations which might arise in the future too.
Today, several countries are fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccines. Some are even doing it at the cost of proper testing. Healthcare experts have expressed their concern in this regard. Fast-tracking vaccines, in no way, should compromise with the quality and ethics of production. However, on the other hand, several institutes are also engrossed in producing safe fast-tracked vaccines. Fortunately, some of these candidates are also showing promising results.
Safe fast-tracking of drugs and vaccines has always been considered crucial and a tough time like this is only pushing research further in that direction.