US biotech firm Moderna reported promising early results on Monday from the first clinical tests of an experimental vaccine against the novel coronavirus performed on a small number of volunteers.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said the vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, appeared to produce an immune response in eight people who received it similar to that seen in people convalescing from the virus.
“These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection,” said Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks.
“These data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials,” Zaks said.
Moderna, which was founded nine years ago, said the vaccine “was generally safe and well tolerated” and that patients suffered no more than redness or soreness from the shots. In a conference call, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the preliminary tests inspired confidence that mRNA-1273 has “a high probability to provide protection” against the virus.
Many different companies and institutions around the world are racing to develop a vaccine in record time, using different approaches. The World Health Organization has a list of 76 contenders. Moderna was the first in the world into clinical trials with an RNA vaccine, which uses a segment of genetic material from the virus itself, called messenger DNA, to provoke the immune system into making antibodies.
Moderna has so far only released results for the youngest group of volunteers. It intends to press ahead to the next stage of human trials involving 600 people shortly, with a much bigger trial involving thousands set to begin in July.