Why this Houston-made COVID shot is a major win for vaccine equity – Houston Chronicle
A Houston-made COVID-19 vaccine will likely be approved for use in India by the end of the year, said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Hotez and his co-director, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, created the vaccine as a cheap and easy-to-produce option to fill global gaps in vaccine coverage. Dubbed Corbevax, it uses a safe and traditional vaccine technology, called recombinant protein subunit, that has been used for decades in the hepatitis B vaccine and is therefore easier for other countries to make themselves.
Drugmaker Biological E has agreed to manufacture 300 million doses in India, where 36 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and 59 percent have at least one dose. Efficacy data has been submitted to the Drugs Controller General of India for authorization.
The vaccine does not have a patent, and Hotez hopes manufacturers in other low- or middle-income countries will take advantage of its availability.
“If you leave large populations unvaccinated, that’s where the greatest concerns of variants arise,” he said, referring to the current spread of the omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa, a country that has a low vaccination rate. “So this vaccine is therefore needed not only for global health but also economic development.”
Bottazzi, who is from Honduras, is especially interested in the vaccine’s proliferation throughout Latin America. Less than 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated in several countries there, according to the New York Times global virus tracker.
“Corbevax is gong to be a trailblazer,” she said.
The vaccine’s development was swift. When data began coming to light on a novel coronavirus in January 2020, Bottazzi and Hotez looked back through years of past research on their vaccine that treated severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a closely related coronavirus. Their SARS vaccine never made it to human trials because that virus by then had died out. But the work helped them prepare the new vaccine for clinical trials in India by fall 2020.
Data on its efficacy has not been publicly released, and Hotez was reluctant to disclose that information before the company makes an official announcement.
“It seems to stand up very well against delta and other variants,” he said. “I’m hoping we’ll know in the coming weeks how it looks against omicron.”
The Houston vaccine never garnered support from the U.S. government, which threw its weight behind developing vaccines with newer technology, such as the Moderna and Pfizer shots. That means Hotez and Bottazzi were on their own when it came to funding.
So far, they have raised between $5 million and $10 million, largely from philanthropy.
“The reasons for coming to Texas was to be part of this amazing Texas Medical Center, but the other side of that is to be part of the philanthropic environment in Texas,” Hotez said. “If we wouldn’t have come to Texas, we would not have had this vaccine.”