As reported in the New York Times, early preliminary results released by Moderna, a Cambridge, MA-based company, suggests that its experimental vaccine is safe and capable of stimulating a robust immune response against SARS-CoV-2. Moderna’s novel technology delivers pieces of SARS-CoV-2 genetic code (also known as messenger RNA or mRNA) into cells. This stimulates the human immune system to produce antibodies against the spike protein of the virus. The widely publicized report includes results from 8 healthy volunteers who were part of a larger group of healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55 vaccinated in Moderna’s ongoing Phase 1 study. Each volunteer received two doses of the experimental vaccine. Reportedly, the immune systems of these individuals made antibodies that were able to stop the virus from replicating in laboratory tests. These so-called “neutralizing antibodies” are the types of antibodies generally thought to be needed for an effective vaccine. While this data appears promising, it is just the beginning of the antibody testing and development pipeline. These preliminary findings must now be repeated in a second phase of tests involving hundreds of people to begin soon, and a third phase this summer will involve thousands. If trials are successful, the company anticipates that some doses of a vaccine could become available for widespread use as early as late 2020. This would be an important milestone, as vaccines are widely expected to be an essential component of the effort to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.
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