Two US researchers have developed the Corona vaccine “Corbevax”, which has been approved in India since December. It is effective and cheap to produce. What makes it so special: the researchers have not applied for a patent. So “Corbevax” is an open-source vaccine. It could be produced easily and cheaply wherever it is technically possible.
Last year, rich industrialized nations secured ¾ of all available vaccine doses worldwide – despite the fact, that only 16% of the world’s population live there. This unequal distribution of vaccines leads to very low vaccination rates in countries in the global South. The Corona virus “passes through” these poorer nations, where people are unprotected. While there, more and more mutations develop, which then return to the wealthy countries and become a problem there as well. A vicious cycle that could be broken with more vaccines and better distribution. A vaccine, approved in India in December, could be part of the solution: “Corbevax”. Peter Hotez and Maria Bottazzi from Texas Children’s Hospital developed it. For decades, Hotez and Bottazzi’s team has been researching vaccines against various diseases. With the onset of the Corona pandemic, they started developing a Corona vaccine.
“Corbevax” development based on private donations
The team around Hotez and Bottazzi did not receive any financial support from the US government for the development of their vaccine. Instead, the US government had already initiated its own vaccine development programme.
Hotez and Bottazzi tried to grow enthusiasm within the US government surrounding their vaccine idea. However, they remained unimpressed, Peter Hotez told NPR. “People were so focused on innovation that no one came up with the idea: ‘Hey, maybe we could use a low-cost, durable, easy-to-use vaccine that could vaccinate the whole world,'” Hotez says.
“We couldn’t really catch on in the US, but our goal is to enable technologies for production and use in low- and middle-income countries,” Maria Bottazzi recalls.
That’s why the team of researchers resorted to a funding pot mainly provided by private individuals. More than 6 million dollars came together. That was apparently enough.
Inexpensive, effective and easy to store: the protein vaccine has many advantages
“Corbevax” is a protein vaccine, similar to “Novavax“, which is already approved in Europe. These contain tiny particles of the pathogen (= microorganisms that cause the disease). After the vaccination the body then can produce the antibodies needed to fight off the real, “big” virus after an infection. The mRNA and vector vaccines (Biontech/Pfizer, Moderne, AstraZeneca) are different: they contain information about the blueprint of the protein that makes the Corona virus so special.
No patent application: The open-source vaccine “Corbevax”.
The researchers have decided not to apply for a patent. That is why “Corbevax” is also called an open-source vaccine. “Corbevax” is produced by the Indian pharmaceutical company “Biological E”.
— Maria Elena Bottazzi (@mebottazzi) January 3, 2022
Fair access to vaccines: a possible game changer
The production at the Indian pharmaceutical company costs about 3 dollars per dose – making it much cheaper than the well-known mRNA vaccines. The results are good: according to the company’s own information, the vaccine provides 80% protection against a symptomatic infection with the delta variant of the coronavirus. Another big advantage is storage: the protein in the vaccine is stable, so there is no need to freeze anything – cool storage is sufficient.
“Corbevax is a game-changer,” believes Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health in Washington, D.C. “It will allow countries around the world to produce these vaccines and distribute them in an affordable, effective and safe way.”
Photo credit: TEXAS CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL/PHOTOMONTAGE