Tests first need to be repeated before the vaccine can be trialled on humans. Prof Neyts’ team took a vaccine against yellow fever as their point of departure.
“The vaccine has existed for 80 years and has been administered to a million people. It is a very effective and safe vaccine. One jab provides a life time’s protection” says the professor.
In layman’s terms, the Leuven scientists have stuck part of coronavirus’s genetic code in the code of the vaccine against yellow fever. In this way seven different candidate vaccines were developed. Tests on mice were not very helpful because the virus hardly spreads in their lungs, but the Leuven team was one of the first to switch to hamsters.
“Hamsters come down with pneumonia when they are infected and pass the virus on to others.”
The scientists hope to publish their results in June and move on to human trials. They are very hopeful.
Around 100 vaccines are being tested worldwide. Prof Neyts welcomes the competition. Switching to cycling terminology he says: “I believe it’s important to start with as big a peloton as possible. In human trials nine out of ten vaccines will fall by the wayside. Around ten vaccines will remain. You need different types of vaccine. When they hit the market, one will work better than another. It’s good to have different vaccines on the market. It will be necessary to reach the entire world population.”
An efficient vaccine will probably only be available next year.