Racing to find a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s the task facing pharmaceutical companies around the globe and right here in Connecticut.
The CaroGen Corporation is among several Connecticut-based companies working on a vaccine
The Farmington-based vaccine and immunology therapy company has been working on a formula since the pandemic’s early stages in February.
CaroGen Corporation CEO Bijan Almassian says they are in the animal testing stages of what is a complicated process.
“Not only do you have to see the side of immunogenicity, you have to see how this immunogenicity lasts,” he said.
Groton’s Pfizer Pharmaceuticals announced in May it has moved beyond animal studies and is dosing humans with its vaccine candidate, one it developed in partnership with German pharmaceutical giant BioNTech.
In Meriden, Protein Sciences is also working on a formula. The subsidiary of Sanofi has developed two vaccine candidates. They have not done human testing yet but are aiming for the fall. The goal is to have an approved vaccine by year’s end, but there are many hurdles that must first be cleared.
“First of all we’ll have to see if the vaccine is safe and effective, said Clement Lewin, head of the BARDA office of Sanofi. “When the vaccines come out it’s going to take a while to scale up manufacturing.”
While parent company, Sanofi, is based in France, Protein Sciences’ Meriden location is considered a key location as the company works on a vaccine.
“We, like everybody else, would like life to get back to normal and I think without a vaccine, that’s gonna be challenging,” added Lewin.
Connecticut companies are also looking at ways to treat COVID-19 patients. New Haven’s Alexion is conducting a clinical trial of Ultomiris. The medicine is already on the market to treat two other rare conditions, Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, commonly known as PNH, and Atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (aHUS).
“Right now it’s under investigation, the dosage and the dosage regime,” said Dr. John Orloff, head of Research & Development for Alexion.
Orloff explains there is evidence that coronavirus respiratory issues and subsequent organ failure could be caused by hyperactivity of the immune system itself.
“For us it’s increasingly clear that much of the coronavirus related mortality is being caused by the body overreacting to the virus and attacking itself,” said Orloff.
According to Alexion, Ultomiris could help regulate this. Utomaris is a medicine known as a complement inhibitor. It works by inhibiting the body’s complement system which forms the foundation of the immune system.
Alexion is also studying ways Ultomiris could benefit coronavirus patients who develop blood clots.
Orloff says it has entered phase three of a clinical trial and is being used at centers around the US on patients with extreme cases of COVID-19. Orloff says the trial is being done on adult patients who are admitted to the hospital in respiratory distress requiring supplemental oxygen and in many cases, on mechanical ventilation.