Since the first vaccines against Covid-19 a intense debate That divided the world On the one hand, they were the pharmaceutical companies of powerful countries that protected the intellectual property of the vaccines they developed. And on the other, those who asked for the patent release so that vaccines could be produced in greater quantities and reached the poorest countries.
Now, a Honduran scientist hopes to end that confrontation, thanks to the development of a patent-free vaccine. It’s about the doctor Maria Elena Bottazzi, co – director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, in Houston, United States.
Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez designed a vaccine against Covid-19 that at the end of December received authorization for emergency use in India. The name of the vaccine is Corbevax and, according to Bottazzi, all the information necessary to manufacture it is available on a non-profit basis. “Anyone can replicate it”, Bottazzi tells her BBC Mundo and repeats: “Anyone can work with us.”
Bottazzi and his team are currently in talks to produce the vaccine in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh Y Botswana. And, being Honduran, it has a special interest in having it produced in Central America and distributed throughout the region.
In conversation with BBC Mundo, Bottazzi explains why he considers Corbevax “the first vaccine against Covid designed for global health” and how he hopes it will change the paradigms of vaccine production and distribution.
The vaccine developed by Bottazzi and Hotez is based on a traditional technology, call recombinant protein. This technology has already proven effective for decades, in vaccines such as hepatitis B, for example.
Its operation is based on using enough virus proteins to arouse an immune response, but not the disease. In addition, it requires a simpler and cheaper production process than other types of vaccines, such as the messenger RNA vaccines that produce Pfizer The Modern.
Bottazzi and Hotez had been working on a vaccine since the early 2000s, when the epidemics of MERS and SARS, which are also coronaviruses, emerged. As these viruses did not lead to a pandemic, interest in these vaccines was lost, but with the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, Bottazzi and Hotez resumed their work, taking advantage of the path they had already advanced.
Thus, when the pandemic, Bottazzi and Hotez were ready to develop the tests necessary to refine their vaccine. “But there was no interest,” says Bottazzi, referring to the fact that did not get the support of U.S. government agencies. “They were focused on what had to be an mRNA vaccine,” he explains.
“It was a failure not to support technologies such as recombinant proteins, or conventional vaccines, because it is true, maybe it takes us longer to produce, but once we do we can produce billions of doses. While with mRNAs, they can be produced quickly, but not on a sufficient scale ”, says the specialist.
But as the third year of the pandemic begins, Bottazzi’s vaccine seems to finally have its chance. For the scientist, the Indian government was “more ingenious.” “They said ‘if no one wants these vaccines, I am going to review them and produce my own, without having to wait for someone to come and give them to us'”, bill.
The Baylor College Hospital where Bottazzi and Hotez work partnered with the indio Biological laboratory E. to share information with them and to do the necessary studies to verify the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
According to a Phase III study of 3,000 volunteers, Corbevax was 90% effective in preventing disease caused by the original version of SARS-CoV-2, and 80% effective for the delta variant. The data from these studies have not yet been published, so some specialists prefer to be cautious.
“Science, especially when it comes to public health, relies on objective analysis of open data, not taking the word of a vaccine manufacturer with a vested interest in the product,” James Krellenstein told The Washington Post. , co-founder of PrEP4All, an organization that ensures equity in health services.
And regarding the variant omicron, Bottazzi says they are doing tests and awaiting validation of the results. The researcher maintains that the data from the studies have not yet been published because it takes time to process and make them available to the public, and both they and Biological E. are small teams compared to large multinationals.
At the same time, Bottazzi assures that “there will be no surprises.” The truth is that the government of India has already ordered 300 million vaccines from Biological E. In addition, Bottazzi maintains that the idea is that in March the Corbevax enters the Covax mechanism, with which the World Health Organization (WHO) search one equitable distribution of vaccines among the least developed countries.
Bottazzi is confident that his work will help change the model of vaccine production and distribution worldwide. “Manufacturers have to have some altruism”, dice.
“The misfortune was that there was no such altruism in that emergency situation and we were not able to offer the world what it needed, and that is why we are still in this very serious situation,” says the expert.
“Global access is not just sending the vaccine to another part of the world, global access is that there is equitable access, that any producer can replicate the formula, that anyone has access to the vaccine”, agrega Bottazzi.
According to her, this patent-free model highlights the role of academic entities and serves to call attention to governments to support more research areas. “We must change the incentives, it cannot be only economic,” says Bottazzi, and closes: “The vaccine is not a product to make money”.