What vaccines against COVID-19 are evaluated by Latin America?

With more than 6 million of the more than 13 million infected in the world, the American continent, which already became the most affected by the pandemic, last week registered 60% of new infections and 64% of deaths caused by the virus around the globe, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Brazil (with almost two million), Peru (330,123), Chile (319,493) and Mexico (304,435) are among the ten countries with the highest number of infections registered in the world. Colombia (154,277), Argentina (103,265) and Ecuador (68,459) are also in the next 20 positions.

With more than 146,000 deaths from COVID-19, of the more than 574,000 recorded by the world, Latin America has already surpassed North America, where the United States has 135,984 and Canada 8,836 deaths, as confirmed by PAHO.

Especially Brazil (72,833) and Mexico (35,491), in addition to Peru (12,054), Chile (7,069), Colombia (5,787) and Ecuador (5,063), have placed the region as the second with the most deaths in the world, only behind Europe, with some 200,000 registered to date. So it is only logical that Latin American scientists try to join the world race against the clock in search of a vaccine.

Argentina, Brazil and Mexico search and test vaccines

The German biotech company BioNTech, in association with the American Pfizer and the Chinese Fosun Pharma, chose Argentina to carry out one of the testing phases of its possible vaccine. The country was selected for its scientific experience and local operational capacities -especially with regard to conducting clinical studies-, as well as for the epidemiology of the disease in Argentina, according to a statement.

The clinical trial of BioNTech's experimental BNT162b1 vaccine, which has so far been tested in just 45 subjects, will involve up to 30,000 patients in the next phase. The tests, provided they obtain the approval of the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT), could begin between this month of July and August.

Its implementation will be in charge of the Infant Foundation, which investigates respiratory diseases and is led by the infectologist Fernando Polack, trained at the prestigious American Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The aspiration of the pharmaceutical companies: distribute hundreds of millions of doses before the end of the year.

But this is only one of the 23 vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation (with humans) and 140 in preclinical evaluation (with tissue or cell cultures and animal tests) registered by the World Health Organization (WHO).

A third of the first group takes place in China, where SARS-CoV2 broke out and vaccines against previous coronaviruses were already under investigation. Most are in phase 1, evaluating safety, or in phase 2, exploring efficacy. Of the two most advanced, already in phase 3, which evaluates efficacy on a larger scale, one is British (University of Oxford and AstraZeneca) and the other Chinese (Sinovac). Both will be tested soon in Brazil, in cooperation with the Immunobiological Reference Center of the Federal University of Sao Paulo and the Brazilian research institute Butantan, respectively.

Among the preclinical studies, other Brazilian projects stand out, one from the University of Sao Paulo and another from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and the Butantan Institute. In addition to an Argentine candidate, that of the Institute of Biotechnological Research of the University of San Martín and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).

“Although two months (from) the virus emerged there were already candidate vaccines, all developed or moderately developed countries started with their own projects; On the one hand, because it is not known which one will work, but also because distribution can be a problem if only one produces it, "the coordinator of this project, Julia Cassataro, told the local agency Télam.

The group of Immunology, infectious diseases and vaccine development led by Cassataro, received funding from the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation, and was already testing adjuvant substances, which enhance the body's response to different vaccines oral and injectable.

According to the local press, these Argentine scientists work from the strains that circulate in Argentina today, but they have not identified significant mutations that hinder the effectiveness of a possible foreign vaccine. Asked by DW, Cassataro explained that the group has stopped giving interviews to the media to focus on the investigation.

In addition, the Argentine press reports on another vaccine project in which researchers from the Faculty of Biochemistry and Biological Sciences of the National University of the Coast (FBCB-UNL), CONICET and the companies Cellargen Biotech SRL and Biotecnofe SA work, although This is not registered by the WHO.

The same happens with a candidate who is developing at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which according to the National Geografic magazine is in the first phase of evaluation in animal models. And it is based on advances that experts had developed focused on other viruses, as explained by a researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology (IBt) Laura Alicia Palomares Aguilera, also at the top of work when consulted by DW.

"Subsidized, with affordable prices"

For the Dominican physician Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO's Communicable Diseases department, the high rates of inequality, the weaknesses of the health systems and the strong presence of an informal economy, which has influenced the early reopening of economic activity in Some countries have been key to bringing Latin America to the panorama with which the pandemic faces it today.

So, while a vaccine is found and distributed, the regional organization asks to continue applying the mitigation, health security and education measures of the population to slow its progress.

For its part, and although effective vaccines or medications are not available in the coming months, once these become available, PAHO insists on the need to guarantee equitable access to them. For this reason, "it is coordinating with other partners" for the purchase of a hypothetical vaccine and its subsidized distribution, at affordable prices for the most vulnerable countries, regardless of their income level, said its director Carissa Etienne. To the initiative, the organization reported without further details, at least 30 countries have joined.

Source: Rosa Muñoz Lima for DW