Vaccine Trials and Tribulations: Will There Be a COVID-19 Vaccine?

Dear Reader,

Will there or won’t there be a COVID-19 vaccine?

Markets are (literally) betting on one being discovered.

This is from Sky News on 21 July 2020 (emphasis added):

Global markets have risen over hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University. Researchers said they were on schedule to have the vaccine ready for mass production as soon as September.

They said the drug triggered a sharp rise in antibodies and immune system T cells which help to clear infections from the body, while the antibodies were able to kill the virus in the lab.

Vaccine on schedule for September?

If the weekend’s Daily Mail is anything to go by, then that really was a case of wishful thinking…

The two British scientists at the forefront of the [Oxford University] hunt for a coronavirus vaccine have clashed over a controversial plan to deliberately infect people with the virus.

Their dilemma is whether to expose volunteers to the virus, which could slash the time it takes to make a vaccine widely available, or wait until any potential long-term effects are better understood.

Since this ethical dilemma is happening in the Old Dart, it only seems appropriate that we paraphrase a bit of Shakespeare…to rush to market or NOT to rush to market, that is the question.

The prospect of not fully understanding what the potential long-term effects might be doesn’t fill me with confidence.

After the media spin comes the truth…eventually.

Here’s a little more from the Daily Mail article (emphasis added):

News of the conflict comes as other scientists have told this newspaper that a vaccine is likely to be only partially effective and comes with the risk of strong side-effects.

Downing Street has been advised that while there is a 50 per cent chance that an effective vaccine will be administered in the UK next year, it is unlikely to give complete protection against the virus.

Instead, the Oxford University team expect the jab to “mitigate” its worst effects by lessening the severity of the symptoms. 

Sources say trials of the vaccine — codenamed ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 — found two-thirds of recipients developed headaches and a fifth became feverish.

Partially effective? Strong side-effects? 50% chance of being administered next year?

Never read that in the initial media release.

None of this comes as a surprise to us.

Learn about the critical factors that affect the rise and fall of the Aussie Dollar. Download your free copy of this special report: ‘Will the Aussie Dollar Enjoy a Post-Pandemic Resurgence?’

In the 27 July 2020 issue of The Gowdie Letter we wrote…

24 Candidate Vaccines

On 21 July 2020, the World Health Organisation published this updated report…

Port Phillip Publishing

Source: WHO

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According to the report there are 24 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation…

Port Phillip Publishing

Source: WHO

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The Oxford University trial — which quickened the pulse of the market last week — is one of the more promising candidates.

The preliminary results of the Oxford University trial were reported in The Lancet (a peer reviewed medical journal) on 20 July 2020. 

Port Phillip Publishing

Source: The Lancet

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As reported in The Lancet (emphasis added)…

“ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 showed an acceptable safety profile, and homologous boosting increased antibody responses. These results, together with the induction of both humoral and cellular immune responses, support large-scale evaluation of this candidate vaccine in an ongoing phase 3 programme.

Initial test results are encouraging.

However, Phase 3 trials are far more rigourous…raising the bar to another level.

In December 2016, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published this paper…

Port Phillip Publishing

Source: JAMA

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As reported in the paper (emphasis added)…

Phase 3 clinical trials provide the highest level of evidence that an experimental treatment is safe and efficacious. Although these trials, which typically involve large numbers of patients, require substantial investment on the part of participants, investigators, and sponsors, many experimental drugs tested at this stage fail. For example, recently, several therapies that demonstrated promise in animal and early testing have failed in larger studies to show clinical benefit, while increasing the risk of serious adverse events and death among participants.”

The Phase 3 clinical trials are when researchers find out if the cure is worse than the disease. 

The testing process — as you would expect — is much more exacting.

There are so many variables to be considered — on a greater number of participants from diverse backgrounds — before a vaccine can be approved for community use.

What quantities need to be administered and how often? Do age and/or pre-existing health conditions alter the results? Are there any adverse reactions from long-term use?

Rushing a vaccine to the market is fraught with danger. Imagine what would happen if it caused serious side-effects in certain sections of the community?

To understand how difficult it is to pass the Phase 3 trial phase, this is from the JAMA paper…

Question: Why and how often do experimental drugs fail in phase 3 clinical trials, and how often are trial results published?

Findings: Using public sources and commercial databases covering drugs and biologics that started trials between 1998 and 2008, 54% of agents carried into pivotal trials failed, primarily owing to inadequate efficacy or safety concerns. Trial results were published for 40% of these failed agents.”

With a 54% failure rate, it’s a tad premature to get excited about a potential vaccine.

A suitable vaccine might never be found

One reality many are not considering is that a suitable vaccine might never be found.

This extract is from the South China Morning Post in February 2020 reminds us of just how difficult it is to create a vaccine (emphasis added)…

Seventeen years after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak and seven years since the first Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) case, there is still no coronavirus vaccine despite dozens of attempts to develop them.

Those on the inside have a greater appreciation of the challenges.

A study by Lazard of 221 global healthcare leaders shows almost 75% think a vaccine won’t be available until the second half of 2021 or until 2022.

Port Phillip Publishing

Source: Twitter

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Investors expecting a promised vaccine to restore economic health, would do well to heed Shakespeare’s sage advice…

Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest and despair most sits.

Whereas those who despair over the current market disconnect from economic reality might be in for a pleasant surprise.


Vern Gowdie Signature

Vern Gowdie,
Editor, The Rum Rebellion

Greg Canavan approaches the investment world with an ‘ignorance is bliss’ philosophy. In a world where all the information is just a click away at all times, Greg believes we ingest too much of it. As a result, we forget how to think for ourselves, and let other people’s thoughts cloud our own.

Or worse, we only seek out the voices who are confirming our biases and narrowminded views of the truth. Either situation is not ideal. With regards to investing, this makes us follow the masses rather than our own gut instincts.

At The Rum Rebellion, fake news and unethical political persuasion are not in the least bit tolerated. It denounces the heavy amount of government influence which the public accommodates.

Greg will help The Rum Rebellion readers block out all the nonsense and encourage personal responsibility…both in the financial and political world.

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