How close is Italy to developing a COVID-19 vaccine?
Updated 18:19, 23-Mar-2020
Luigi Aurisicchio

Editor's note:  COVID-19 is now raging in Italy. As of March 20, the total number of confirmed cases stands at 47,021, and the total number of deaths has surpassed 4,000. A total of 627 deaths were reported in a single day on March 20, the highest one-day toll in the world. With the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Italian biotech firms and scientists race against time to develop a vaccine. Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of Takis Biotech, tells CGTN that the Italian Health Ministry has approved the first animal tests of a vaccine developed by his firm, the first in Europe to reach this phase of experimentation. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

CGTN: How close is Italy to developing a COVID-19 vaccine?

Aurisicchio: There are many companies around the world that are developing different kinds of vaccines. My company is one of those companies. As soon as the Chinese scientists published the sequence of the virus, we felt that we needed to do something.

What we did was to select a region of the genome of the virus. And we started creating different potential candidates that could be evaluated in the clinic.

Our vaccine is not the standard vaccine that you may think of. It is not based on any activated virus or based on proteins of the virus.

It's a genetic vaccine.

We have selected one gene of the coronavirus. We have improved the potential immunogenicity and this vaccine would be given in the muscle following the delivery of a short electrical field.

Some others are developing vital vectors.  So good vectors, good viruses in which you can put inside an inactivated coronavirus gene.

There is a lot of work going on.

CGTN: How is it progressing?

Aurisicchio: There is a procedure in Europe to be followed if you want to evaluate a drug. This drug can be a vaccine, for instance. You have to ask the Ministry of Health permission to start animal experimentation. So we are in a stage in which we wrote a project. The project was carefully evaluated by the Italian Ministry of Health and we got the approval last week.

So this means next week we are starting vaccination on mice, the preclinical model, we are using rodents. So in this case, mice.

A­nd our plan is to get some results by mid- (or) end of April, in which we will assess whether the antibodies exerted in the mice are able to neutralize the COVID-19. We are now trying to connect with the European agency, the EMA, to accelerate this process.

If the process is the same applied for every kind of drugs, our guess is to start the vaccination of humans in November.

CGTN: As a vaccine cannot be developed in a short period of time, how can people deal with the situation?

Aurisicchio: The only solution is to protect themselves, wear masks and be very careful.

That's the only solution right now.

There are also some drugs that are being developed for therapeutic applications. But still, it's still in early days. We don't know yet what is the best drug that may work in this particular situation

In Italy, as well as in China, there is currently the experimentation of Tocilizumab, an antibody that is not against the virus, but the inflammation that is induced by the virus. So it's a sort of lifesaving drug in a way.

So there is a lot of attention now in Italy about this drug because this may help avoid patients going into the intensive care unit.

That's very important.


Interviewer: Wang Naiqian

Video editing: Liu Shasha

Producer: Wei Wei

Supervisor: Mei Yan

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