By Cassandra Garrison
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico aims to have developed a vaccine against COVID-19 that could be granted approval for emergency use this year, a senior official said on Tuesday, an outcome that could wean it off unreliable foreign supplies for its slow vaccination program.
The head of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt), Maria Elena Alvarez-Buylla, told a news conference that the vaccine under development could be granted approval in November or December of this year.
Clinical trials with volunteers could begin this month, according to Avimex, the veterinary pharmaceutical company that is leading the vaccine’s development in Mexico.
If the trails are successful, the “Patria” vaccine could help Mexico and other developing nations that have struggled to secure supplies of foreign-made shots that rich countries have snapped up.
Mexico has so far acquired 16.9 million vaccine doses for its population of 126 million, all from foreign companies including Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac, AstraZeneca, CanSino and Sputnik V, according to government data.
The costs to acquire Avimex’s vaccine would be 800% lower than imported foreign vaccines, the government said.
Mexico has reported 2,286,133 infections and 210,294 deaths from COVID-19, the seventh-highest death toll per head of population in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The government says the real case numbers are likely to be significantly higher, and separate health ministry data suggests the actual death toll may be at least 60% above the confirmed figure.
Patria is being developed with technology from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, based on a recombinant Newcastle virus and a HexaPro SARS-CoV-2 protein developed by the University of Texas at Austin.
The company said it used existing technology from its veterinary influenza vaccine, which has been proven safe for humans, for an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
“After analyzing the technological platforms at its disposal, Avimex determined that a recombinant Newcastle disease virus (rNDV) has the potential for success for the COVID-19 vaccine,” the company said in a statement.
Other versions of the vaccine will enter clinical trials as injections in Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam. These have the same molecular makeup using the HexaPro construction in rNDV, and are developed by the U.S. institutes and research partners in those countries.
Avimex’s version, however, is the only one to be tested using an active virus, a company spokeswoman said. The Avimex version is also the only one being tested as an intranasal spray as well as an injection, she said.
Mexico’s foreign ministry and Conacyt contributed funding, Avimex said.
The company said it plans industrial-scale production at two new factories as soon as it has successful phase 1 and 2 trial results.