Opinion

Italian scientists claim world-first coronavirus vaccine breakthrough

An Italian coronavirus vaccine has antibodies generated in mice that work on human cells, according to tests carried out at Rome’s infectious-disease Spallanzani Hospital. (Reuters/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 05 May 2020

Italian scientists claim world-first coronavirus vaccine breakthrough

  • A coronavirus disease (COVID-19) candidate vaccine has neutralized the virus in human cells for the first time

ROME: An Italian coronavirus vaccine has antibodies generated in mice that work on human cells, according to tests carried out at Rome’s infectious-disease Spallanzani Hospital.

Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of  Takis, the firm developing the medication, said that a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) candidate vaccine has neutralized the virus in human cells for the first time.

“This is the most advanced stage of testing of a candidate vaccine created in Italy,” Aurisicchio told the Italian newsagency ANSA. “Human tests are expected after this summer,” he added.

“According to Spallanzani Hospital, as far as we know we are the first in the world so far to have demonstrated a neutralization of the coronavirus by a vaccine. We expect this to happen in humans too,” said Aurisicchio.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

He explains that Takis is exploring “more interesting technological platforms with LineaRx, an American company.

“We are working hard for a vaccine coming from Italian research, with an all-Italian and innovative technology, tested in Italy and made available to everyone. In order to reach this goal we need the support of national and international institutions and partners who may help us speed up the process.”

Aurisicchio added: “This is not a competition. If we join our forces and skills together we can all win against coronavirus.”

Italian researchers describe the results “encouraging and well beyond expectations.”

After a single vaccination, the mice developed antibodies that can block the virus from infecting human cells, Aurisicchio said.

After observing that the five vaccine candidates generated a large number of antibodies, researchers selected the two with the best results.

Serum was isolated from the antibody-rich blood; it was then analyzed in the virology laboratory of the Spallanzani Institute, one of the most advanced establishments in Europe. The next step now is to understand how much the immune response lasts.

All of the vaccine candidates currently being developed are based on the material genetic of DNA protein “spike”, the molecular tip used by the coronavirus to enter human cells.

They are injected with the so-called “electroporation” technique, which consists of an intramuscular injection followed by a brief electrical impulse, helping the vaccine break into the cells and activating the immune system.

Researchers believe that this makes their vaccine particularly effective for generating functional antibodies against the “spike” protein, in particular in the lung cells, which are the most vulnerable to coronavirus.  

“So far, the immunity generated by most of our five vaccine candidates has an effect on the virus. We expect even better results after the second vaccination,” said Dr Emanuele Marra from Takis.

Marra added that those vaccine candidates could adapt to any COVID-19 evolutions and its possible mutations.

“We are already working on a trial version in case the virus accumulates mutations and becomes invisible to the immune system. For this purpose, we use the same concept we use in developing cancer vaccines,” he said.


COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

Updated 13 min 46 sec ago

COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

  • The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants
  • Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to the coronavirus than many of its European neighbors, said on Monday its number of deaths passed the 4,000 mark.
The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants, with 90 percent of the deceased over the age of 70.
Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.
According to AFP’s own database, Sweden’s virus death rate of 399 per million inhabitants is far higher than Norway’s 43 per million, Denmark’s 97, or Finland’s 55.
However it is still lower than for France at 435 per million, Britain and Italy, both at 542, and Spain at 615.
Critics have accused Swedish authorities of gambling with citizens’ lives by not imposing strict stay-at-home measures. But the Public Health Agency has insisted its approach is sustainable in the long-term and has rejected drastic short-term measures as too ineffective to justify their impact on society.
The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, while urging people to respect social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency stressed countries’ death tolls should be compared with caution.
“In Sweden, anybody who has the diagnosis of COVID-19 and dies within 30 days after that is called a COVID-19 case, irrespective of the actual cause of death. And we know that in many other countries there are other ways of counting that are used,” he told AFP.
Tegnell has repeatedly insisted that stricter measures would not have saved more Swedish lives.
Three-quarters of those who have died have been either in nursing homes or receiving at-home care.
Tegnell noted that a ban on visits to nursing homes was introduced in mid-March, but said elderly residents needed regular contact with their carers — who were believed to have spread the virus around many nursing homes.
“I’m really not sure that we could have done so much more,” he said in a weekend interview with Swedish Radio, acknowledging nonetheless that the country had ended up in a “terrible situation that highlights the weaknesses of our elderly care.”
He said care homes had initially failed to respect basic hygiene rules that could have curbed the spread of the disease, but said the situation had since improved.
The Board of Health and Welfare meanwhile insisted Sweden’s nursing homes were functioning well.
It noted that a total of 11,000 nursing home residents died in January-April this year, compared with 10,000 during the same period a year ago.
And Tegnell told reporters Monday that the overall situation in Sweden “was getting better,” with a declining number of people being admitted to intensive care units, a drop in the number of cases being reported in nursing homes, and fewer deaths in nursing homes.