Last month, the United States federal government announced its plans to fund various projects that are likely to develop a treatment or vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus. Approximately $3 billion will be distributed to several biotech companies that have shown promising results in the preliminary phases of their respective clinical trials. The latest development sees Novavax receive a substantial $1.6 billion contract courtesy of the "Operation Warp Speed" COVID-19 vaccine programme

Up to this point, Gilead Sciences and its antiviral drug remdesivir is the only medication that has received emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Published results from several studies show that patients with moderate to severe symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 recovered earlier by several days compared to those who were supported by regular care. Meanwhile, what Novavax offers is a potential solution to the pandemic.

With no known cure available for COVID-19, global healthcare systems are already overwhelmed by the growing number of new transmissions. However, Novavax estimates that its vaccine should be available in early 2021. As for the funding that was granted, "it speaks to the confidence that they have in our platform to be able to develop a vaccine," said the group's president and CEO Stanley Erck in an official statement.

In May, AstraZeneca, another pharmaceutical firm received $1.2 billion in government funding. Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna also received support to conduct the third phase of their respective clinical trials.

Information provided by reports detail that the vaccine holds a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2's spike protein. Once an individual has been inoculated, the body's immune system will recognise the antigen and generate antibodies that, in theory, prevent infection from the actual virus.

Erck noted: "I think we have a high level of confidence that our vaccine will set off the appropriate immune response to generate lots of antibodies." In the past, Novavax has relied on the same model to manufacture vaccines candidate for respiratory syncytial, Ebola, and influenza viruses.

Scientists are working to develop a vaccine
Scientists around the world are working at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Photo: AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

The ultimate target of "Operation Warp Speed" is to help develop a vaccine for COVID-19 that is relatively safe and effective. The goal is to have approximately 300 million doses ready in 2021, which experts believe to be a realistic timeframe.