By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. and abroad, new hope may be emerging in the race to develop a vaccine.
Pfizer, one of a handful of companies racing to develop a vaccine, reported promising new data Wednesday from its early stages of trials.
Phil Dormitzer, a vaccine developer at Pfizer, spoke to ABC News about the new data from the company’s vaccine, which he called “tremendously exciting,” and shared more about a potential release timeline and the vaccine’s efficacy.
“What we’re presenting today is preliminary interim data from the United States trial for the first of those vaccine candidates,” he said in an interview with “World News Tonight.” “Our first vaccine candidate is eliciting antibody levels to neutralize the virus that is equivalent to or better than what you see in people who have had COVID-19.”
“It’s been a tremendous amount of work and there’s now a lot of pride to see the results start to come forward,” he added. “The potential is there to actually change a lot of people’s lives.”
“In this program, we’re going fast. But that does not mean that we’re cutting corners or having any lowering of the safety standards,” he explained, adding that Pfizer is doing what is necessary to make sure the vaccine candidates are safe.
“If this is successful and is rolled out in the scale that we hope it is, we could prevent a tremendous amount of harm from occurring,” he said about the possible vaccine for the virus that has killed over 512,000 people worldwide. “This is very much in line with the overall mission of Pfizer and the vaccine’s division, where this is not the only major pathogen against which we either have or are developing vaccines. But it’s hard to imagine another pathogen that has been as disruptive to society that is causing as much fear today as this virus is.”
While the manufacturer has not given a specific release date, Dormitzer assured ABC News Pfizer is “currently on track” to meet the goal of producing 100 million doses by the end of the year and another 1.2 billion doses in 2021.
“The goal that we’ve set is to distribute millions of vaccine doses in 2020 and executing on that, of course, means everything has to go well,” he said. “We need the regulatory approval to do so. But that is our plan.”
As the trials continue, Dormitzer said they are also “tracking the evolution of the virus closely” to mitigate any possibilities of mutation that could potentially decrease the impact of the vaccine.
“You do see some mutation in the virus, but fortunately we’ve not seen any indication of mutations that would decrease the efficacy of the vaccine,” he said.
As the company continues its work on the possible vaccine, Dormitzer said “there’s no question” that demand will outmatch initial production if the vaccine hits the market.
“When an effective vaccine is first available, there will be more demand than there is supply, so we’re doing a lot to, at this point, ramp up our ability to produce,” he said.
Later this month, the pharmaceutical company, which is developing the vaccine alongside German partner BioNTech, will test 30,000 more volunteers in the next phase of trials.
The World Health Organization recently announced that 17 potential vaccines are in human trials with 132 in preclinical phases.
According to the WHO, AstraZeneca, which is supporting Oxford University’s vaccine trials, CanSino in China, and U.S.-based Moderna are among the front-runners with promising lab results.
Oxford’s vaccine is reportedly the farthest along as it is currently in phase 3 of trials and has enlisted over 10,000 volunteers. The early results found the trial to be safe and effective in emergency doses and could be ready for development by October.
The Chinese military has been greenlighted to use a vaccine developed by its research teams and CanSino Biologics.
The American biotech company Moderna is set to begin its third phase of human trials later this month with 30,000 volunteers. If the trials are a success, Moderna said it hopes to have doses ready by early 2021.
The National Institutes of Health, which backs Moderna’s vaccine, said it estimates the company’s success at 80% to 90%.
And while the progress in development at the trials looks promising, some experts warn that success in developing the vaccine itself isn’t the only hurdle.
“Developing safe and effective vaccines isn’t the only challenge. We need to have enough supply and potentially hundreds of millions of Americans to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health and an ABC News medical contributor, said.
The key, according to some doctors, is for companies to test large numbers of people both old and young during the trial phase to prove the efficacy and safety of any vaccine.
“If we sort of cut corners on those things, I don’t think we’ll create the confidence people need,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told ABC News. ‘We have to do it right.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.