Vaccine from Paraná against Covid-19 is starting to be tested on animals

Even in the face of so many obstacles, ranging from the lack of infrastructure and also the lack of resources and cuts in funding for higher education, the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) stands firm in its goal of developing a vaccine against Covid-19 in Paraná. 19. With promising results in the preclinical phase, the research completed two years in the last month and is now preparing to conduct the animal protection trial. Everything is going well, the expectation is that by the end of the year it will start or at least let the whole process be well underway until the beginning of the clinical phase of the study, with tests on humans and the evaluation, first in terms of vaccine safety.

“It will not be as long as we would like, but we will get this agreement implemented. We will have an important product generated in the state of Paraná”, comments Professor Emanuel Maltempi de Souza, researcher at UFPR and coordinator of studies for development of a vaccine in Paraná against Covid, carried out in a laboratory at the UFPR Polytechnic Center.

Since last year, the preliminary results of the study, which were already promising, have been given new ‘ingredients’. Previously, a protein had been produced using a bacterium (escherichia coli), but it turned out that the neutralizing capacity of the antibody was not so great. “There was a lot of antibody, but a little neutralizing antibody,” Maltempi explains. So the solution was to use mammalian cells as an antigen, which works much better, ensuring a greater ability to block coronavirus infection. “It has a high level of antibody and also neutralizing antibody. It is the preparation we are now investing in to perform the animal protection experiment,” the scientist adds.

For the start of the animal protection experiment, the research team now needs a biosafety level 3 laboratory, the second highest level of containment. And it happens that these laboratories are not available in Brazil. “We have few of these laboratories, and one of them will be completed at the Carlos Chagas Institute. It should have been ready last year, but this vivarium is not yet certified for use, and if it is not certified, it is not possible to place the virus there. We are awaiting this certification, “said the UFPR professor.

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Next step

Meanwhile, and given that research has already demonstrated the production of neutralizing antibody (which is the best indication that the vaccine will work on animals), researchers have already started the procedure to request continued approval for the clinical phase, and opened talks with the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) to obtain permission for the clinical phase of the study, which in three different phases will observe the safety of the vaccine in humans and also its effectiveness, i.e. protection against the disease, effectively.

“I would like to say that it will start this year [a fase clínica], but I have been wrong many times. Let’s go one step at a time. We are behind with animal protection and will take 3 or 4 months on these trials. If it works, we will listen to what Anvisa will tell us, and if everything works well, this year we will still be able to at least be well ahead in this approval process, ”says Emanuel Maltempi de Souza.

The problem of funding has been overcome, but cuts in the university are worrying

Last year, when the research ended its first year, the researchers’ concern was with the availability of funds so the study could move forward. A year later, this problem was solved with transfers from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), resources from the state government and the forecast for more funds coming in through a change from the federal bench (deputies and senators) in Paraná, which should be sufficient to complete the preclinical phase of the research and perform the clinical phase 1.

“I think we want resources for this project. We also had a donation from the public in an action from the university. It is not a very large amount, but due to the delays in releasing public money, it allowed us to keep going. Continuing the experiments because of these donations, ”says Emanuel Maltempi de Souza, explaining that this scenario gives researchers even more confidence. “We are convinced that we are going somewhere. Maybe not in the time we expected, we have had more delays, but that is our reality. We are going somewhere,” says the scientist.

On the other hand, the news of budget cuts from the Ministry of Education and MCTI has given rise to concern among researchers. Although these cuts do not directly affect the project itself, they can affect the functioning of the university. “There is no point in having money for the project if there is no electricity at the university, if the person who takes care of the vivari can not be hired. This must be the source of further delays due to the university’s uncertain function, ”regrets Maltempi.

Why is it important to invest in vaccines?

But if vaccination against Covid-19 is already underway and there are still a number of vaccinations available in the pharmaceutical market, then how important is it for Paraná to continue to invest in having its own vaccine?

In this sense, there are some aspects that need to be considered. One of them concerns safety: the UFPR vaccine is produced with national inputs, not dependent on any kind of import. Another issue is that such an effort is important for the country to create a national production capacity, in addition to taking into account that vaccinations against Covid-19 should be necessary in the next few years.

“[Ter uma vacina própria] First, it guarantees security. If there is an outbreak worldwide, with our vaccine and production capacity in the country, we are not dependent on anyone. And it’s not only for Covid-19, but also for other diseases. New viruses will emerge, most are mild diseases, but some will be major diseases. And the best way to fight infectious diseases is a vaccine, so we need technology to produce a vaccine, ”points out Professor Emanuel Maltempi de Souza.

Another point that the researcher highlights is that vaccinations against Covid-19 should be necessary in the next few years. “From what it shows, we need an annual Covid vaccination. After this outbreak, which we have, which will last all winter, the number is starting to fall. Next winter, those who were vaccinated this year will no longer have “Immunity. We need annual vaccinations that we have against influenza, pneumonia. If not the entire population, at least the most vulnerable groups.”

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