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Why Pursuing Multiple Vaccines May Be the Best Way to End the COVID-19 Pandemic

In This Article

  • The race to test and approve a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is moving quickly, with over 100 vaccines now in development
  • The goal is to identify and accelerate multiple promising candidates into production
  • Here, Mass General investigators highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches and what the next key steps needed are to develop and distribute a new vaccine quickly

The race to test and approve a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is moving quickly, with over 100 vaccines now in development. The goal is to identify and accelerate all of the most promising candidates into production.

This was a key message from vaccine experts at a recent Grand Rounds session co-hosted by the Departments of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

At Mass General, there are at least three vaccine development projects at play, with each using a different strategy.

A team from the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) at Mass General, led by Mark Poznansky, MD, PhD, director of the center, is developing a vaccine using their VaxCelerate platform.

A team from Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard, led by Bruce Walker, MD, director of the institute, received funding from the Massachusetts Consortium for Pathogen Readiness to develop a "highly networked, exosome-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine."

Mason Freeman, MD, director of the Translational Research Center at Mass General, is collaborating with investigators at Mass Eye and Ear on a gene therapy-based vaccine.

In the first talk, Daniel Barouch, MD, PhD, of BIDMC, who is also an investigator at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, discussed two of his preclinical studies showing:

  1. That rhesus macaque monkeys who were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus recovered fared much better during a second exposure compared to monkeys who were exposed for the first time
  2. Demonstrated that prototype DNA vaccines expressing six different spike proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus were able to induce an immune response in rhesus monkeys without previous exposure to the virus

In the second talk, Dr. Freeman discussed the size and scale of worldwide efforts. Surprisingly, about half of all the vaccines in development are using gene-editing technology designed to get the body's own cells to start making viral proteins, so the immune system can learn to recognize and neutralize them. Only 10% of the vaccines in development are using the traditional approach of using a weakened or inactive form of the virus.

In the last talk, Lindsey Baden, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, highlighted key questions that researchers are trying to answer as they continue to develop vaccines. Questions include how long immunity lasts, the number of antibodies needed to provide protection, whether to aim to prevent infections or diseases caused by the infection. And lastly, he discussed the risk/benefits of accelerating development, including safety and financial risks. 

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