A vaccine front-runner hits the brakes.
By Lara Takenaga
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A vaccine front-runner hits the brakes
AstraZeneca yesterday paused the late-stage trials for its coronavirus vaccine because of a suspected adverse reaction in a participant. Now it will investigate whether the vaccine caused the illness, which several people familiar with the situation said was transverse myelitis — an inflammation of the spinal cord that is often prompted by viral infections.
This is the second time that AstraZeneca, which is developing its vaccine with the University of Oxford, has put its trials on hold. Another participant developed symptoms of transverse myelitis, researchers reported in July, but it was later attributed to an “unrelated neurological illness.”
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has garnered attention as one of the most promising and advanced candidates. To understand what the pause may mean in the race for a vaccine, we spoke with our colleague Katherine Wu, a science reporter. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.
What does pausing the vaccine trials mean?
AstraZeneca is not giving the vaccine to any more people until they can determine whether the person’s sickness was directly linked to the vaccine.
How is AstraZeneca’s vaccine different from the other coronavirus vaccines in development?
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is based on what’s called a viral vector. You want to produce an immune response to the coronavirus, but instead of using the coronavirus itself, they use what’s called an adenovirus that they took from a chimpanzee.
This is meant to be a modified virus that they have genetically altered to be harmless to humans, but they’ve also modified it to express some genes from the coronavirus. The idea is that this virus is like a chauffeur that can bring coronavirus genes into the body and then will allow the body to mount a response to the products of those coronavirus genes, but the body will not be infected with the coronavirus.
What happens now with the trial?
The U.S. vaccine trials were not in full swing yet. AstraZeneca was planning to enroll 30,000 people at 80 sites. They’ve enrolled at only 62 sites, so this may mess up their timeline.
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