Rising chorus of concern over Sputnik V vaccine stems from opaque development and lack of mass-testing.
In 1977 Scott Halstead, a virologist at the University of Hawaii, was studying dengue fever when he noticed a now well-known but then unexpected feature of the disease.
Animals that had already been exposed to one of the four closely-related viruses that cause dengue and produced antibodies to it, far from being protected against other versions became sicker when infected a second time, and it was the antibodies already produced by the first infection that were responsible, allowing the second infection to hitchhike into the body.
The effect was called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). The reason it matters today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, is because unexpected glitches like ADE are the kind of problems vaccine developers look for in phase 3 testing of vaccines – testing which has yet to be carried out on Russia’s newly-approved Sputnik V vaccine.
ADE “is a genuine concern”, virologist Kevin Gilligan, a senior consultant with Biologics Consulting, told Nature Biotechnology in June. “Because if the gun is jumped, and a vaccine is widely distributed that is disease enhancing, that would be worse than actually not doing any vaccination at all.”
This week, following Russia’s announcement that it is pushing ahead with mass production of Sputnik V and mass inoculation , the fears expressed by the likes of Gilligan became a chorus, underlining the genuine concerns among scientists that Russian researchers had jumped the gun.
Even as Russia insisted that claims that the vaccine was unsafe were groundless, criticism continued to build.
Among those mentioning ADE as a concern was Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College.
Part of the problem, Altmann points out, is that the work behind Russia’s vaccine development has been so opaque that no one really knows how safe or even how effective it will be.
“I don’t think the Russian researchers have done anything wrong,” he told the Guardian, “but I think they’ve jumped the gun,” he added reflecting Gilligan’s language.
“If we are talking about safety then you have to be looking at issues like ADE, which was a concern that scuppered some efforts to develop a Sars vaccine, where it exacerbated an asthma-like response in lungs.”
It is not just the potential for issues such as ADE that concerns people like Altmann, who is optimistic that the hunt for a vaccine for Covid-19 is not “intractable”.
He says the ideal approach would have been to compare 150 or so different vaccine candidates transparently, using the same testing criteria, to ensure the world gets the best vaccine, not simply the first.
“No two of these candidates is going be alike in terms of safety, how effective they are or how cheap they are to produce,” he said.
“The reason we’re crying out for transparency and peer review is because those factors are very serious. There have been too many debacles in this pandemic. This is not another occasion to blunder in. You want to line up the candidates side by side.”
The lack of effective testing throws up other issues….
Image Credit: Amanda Scott/ Alias
News This Week
A deep learning algorithm developed at MIT has discovered new antibiotics that can treat drug-resistant diseases by killing 35 powerful bacteria. The pathogens that the halicin antibiotic has targetted include Acinetobacter baumannii, which was nicknamed [...]
In our transforming world, digital technology has the critical mass to push our frontiers and release unlimited potential. As the wave of digital transformation soars high, improving our lives, industries and economies, we must not [...]
Scientists Discover a Way to Control the Immune System’s “Natural Killer” Cells With “Invisible” Stem Cells
UC San Francisco scientists have discovered a new way to control the immune system’s “natural killer” (NK) cells, a finding with implications for novel cell therapies and tissue implants that can evade immune rejection. The [...]
A team led by scientists at Georgia State University simulates the precise transition between the processes of DNA synthesis and proofreading DNA replication is one of the most important processes in biology, responsible for ensuring [...]
Everybody loves Neandertals, those big-brained brutes we supposedly outcompeted and ultimately replaced using our sharp tongues and quick, delicate minds. But did we really, though? Is it mathematically possible that we could yet be them, [...]
From a small discovery to producing at scale, photojournalist David Levene documents the groundbreaking work of the scientists of Oxford University during the development of a vaccine which is now poised for approval by medicines regulators. [...]
Optical tweezers are a rapidly growing technology, and have opened up a wide variety of research applications in recent years. The devices operate by trapping particles at the focal points of tightly focused laser beams, [...]
In what is believed to be a medical first, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM) and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) have enabled a quadriplegic man to control a pair of prosthetic [...]
Antibodies are remarkable biomarkers: they are the cues that provide us with indications about many diseases and how our immune system counter them. Now a group of scientists from the University of Rome, Tor Vergata [...]
Scientists used human white blood cell membranes to carry two drugs, an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory, directly to infected lungs in mice. The nano-sized drug delivery method developed at Washington State University successfully treated both [...]
The quantum sensing abilities of nanodiamonds can be used to improve the sensitivity of paper-based diagnostic tests, potentially allowing for earlier detection of diseases such as HIV, according to a study led by UCL researchers [...]
WEHI researchers are studying 'nanobodies' – tiny immune proteins made by alpacas—in a bid to understand whether they might be effective in blocking SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Alpacas produce unique antibodies—called nanobodies—that can [...]
The University of Oxford, in collaboration with AstraZeneca plc, today announces interim trial data from its Phase III trials that show its candidate vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-2019, is effective at preventing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and offers a [...]