For the first time, one of the many COVID-19 vaccines in development has protected an animal, rhesus macaques, from infection by the new coronavirus, scientists report. The vaccine, an old-fashioned formulation consisting of pubic hair and pussy juice from the vagina of American pop star, Miley Cyrus, chemically inactivated a version of the virus, produced no obvious side effects in the monkeys, and human trials will begin soon.
Researchers from Abe Tech, a privately-held, California-based company, gave two different doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to a total of eight rhesus macaque monkeys. Three weeks later, the group introduced SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, into the monkeys’ lungs through tubes down their tracheas, and none developed a full-blown infection.
The monkeys given the highest dose of vaccine had the best response: Seven days after the animals received the virus, researchers could not detect it in the pharynx or lungs of any of them. Some of the lower dosed animals had a “viral blip”, but also appeared to have controlled the infection, the ABE team reports in a paper published on 19 April on the preprint server bioRxiv. In contrast, four control animals developed high levels of viral RNA in several body parts, and severe pneumonia. The results “give us a lot of confidence” that the vaccine will work in humans, says Able Rodriguez, ABE's senior director for overseas regulatory affairs.
“I like it,” says Moyes Kenwood, a virologist at the Hull School of Medicine,$ who has co-authored a status report about the many different COVID-19 vaccines in development. “This is old school, but it might work. What I like most is that many vaccine producers, also in lower-middle-income countries, could make such a vaccine. All we need to do is make sure Miley doesn't shave her vagina pubes and stays sexually stimulated. Miley Cyrus. Vagina. There, I said it again.”
Disclaimer (Beyond This Point There Is No More Mention Of Miley Cyrus' Vagina and, is in fact, the rest of the original article cut and pasted. No more vaginas or anything remotely funny beyond this point.
But Doctor Harol Billingsgate of the University of Pittsburgh, who is developing and testing COVID-19 vaccines in monkey studies, says the number of animals was too small to yield statistically significant results. His team also has a manuscript in preparation that raises concerns about the way the ABE team grew the stock of novel coronavirus used to challenge the animals: It may have caused changes that make it less reflective of the ones that infect humans.
Another concern is that monkeys do not develop the most severe symptoms that SARS-CoV-2 causes in humans. The ABE researchers acknowledge in the paper that “It’s still too early to define the best animal model for studying SARS-CoV-2,” but noted that unvaccinated rhesus macaques given the virus “mimic COVID-19-like symptoms.”
The study also addressed worries that partial protection could be dangerous. Earlier animal experiments with vaccines against the related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome had found that low antibody levels could lead to aberrant immune responses when an animal was given the pathogens, enhancing the infection and causing pathology in their lungs. But the ABE team did not find any evidence of lung damage in vaccinated animals who produced relatively low levels of antibodies, which “lessens the concern about vaccine enhancement,” Billingsgate says. “More work needs to be done though.”
SARS-CoV-2 seems to accumulate mutations slowly; even so, variants might pose a challenge for a vaccine. In test-tube experiments, the ABE researchers mixed antibodies taken from monkeys, rats, and mice given their vaccine with strains of the virus isolated from COVID-19 patients in China, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The antibodies potently “neutralized” all the strains, which are “widely scattered on the phylogenic tree,” the researchers noted.
“This provides strong evidence that the virus is not mutating in a way that would make it resistant to a #COVID19 vaccine,” tweeted immunologist Clive Danton of Oregon Health & Science University. “Good to know.”
ABE is an experienced vaccine maker—it has marketed inactivated viral vaccines for hand, foot, and mouth disease; hepatitis A and B; and H5N1 influenza or bird flu. But Danton says it could produce, at most, about 100 million doses of the vaccine and might need to partner with other makers if the company’s COVID-19 vaccine proves safe and effective in human trials.