The most promising vaccines for COVID-19

updated: 17 June 2020     original published date: 11 May 2020

This rapid research brief synthesises the evidence on the most promising vaccines in development globally and nationally, their mechanisms of action, their stage of development and their strengths and limitations.

The original brief was delivered on 11 May 2020 and the most recent update was provided on 17 June 2020.

Key findings (updated):

  • There are currently 11 vaccine candidates for COVID‑19 in clinical trials. Five of the six vaccines being developed outside of China use new platform technologies and the five being developed in China use traditional inactivated whole virus candidates.
  • National and international initiatives are being implemented at an unprecedented scale to speed up the research translation process.
  • Phase I safety results for a COVID‑19 vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, were published by Cansino Biologics, China, on 22 May 2020. Its vaccine was tested in 108 participants, no serious side effects were reported and the vaccine was able to elicit a neutralising antibody response.
  • Safety, immunogenicity and efficacy results from other vaccine candidates can also be expected in 2020. This may inform the initial use of a limited number of vaccine doses under emergency or compassionate protocols for at-risk populations including frontline health workers, the elderly and those with significant comorbidities.
  • It is too early to select the ‘most promising’ vaccine candidates for widespread population use as we do not yet know enough regarding the safety or efficacy of each candidate, or global capability to manufacture them at large scale under Good Manufacturing Practice conditions. It is not a given that vaccines used or licensed first will be the most effective.
  • The University of Queensland has announced its partnership with CSL as the trusted manufacturer of its COVID‑19 vaccine candidate if clinical trials are successful.
  • It is important for Australian researchers and industry to maintain strong collaborations with global vaccine consortia.

Contributing authors
Lead author: Professor Anthony Cunningham AO FAHMS
Lead author: Professor Anthony Cunningham AO FAHMS Director Centre for Virus Research, Westmead Institute for Medical Research
Dr Keith Chappell
Dr Keith Chappell School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland
Professor Brendan Crabb AC FAHMS
Professor Brendan Crabb AC FAHMS Director and CEO Burnet Institute
Professor Andrew Cuthbertson AO FAA FTSE FAHMS
Professor Andrew Cuthbertson AO FAA FTSE FAHMS Chief Scientist, CSL Limited
Professor Peter Doherty AC FAA FRS FAHMS Nobel Laureate
Professor Peter Doherty AC FAA FRS FAHMS Nobel Laureate University of Melbourne
Professor Heidi Drummer
Professor Heidi Drummer Program Director, Disease Elimination, Burnet Institute
Image of Professor Dale Godfrey FAHMS
Professor Dale Godfrey FAHMS The Doherty Institute
Adjunct Professor Jane Halton AO PSM FIPAA FAHMS
Adjunct Professor Jane Halton AO PSM FIPAA FAHMS Chair, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
Professor Anthony Kelleher FAHMS
Professor Anthony Kelleher FAHMS Program Head – Immunovirology and Pathogenesis Program, Kirby Institute
Dr Suman Majumdar
Dr Suman Majumdar Deputy Program Director, Health Security, Burnet Institute
Professor Christine McDonald AM FAHMS
Professor Christine McDonald AM FAHMS Director of the Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Austin Health
Professor Trent Munro
Professor Trent Munro Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, University of Queensland
Professor Damian Purcell
Professor Damian Purcell Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
Professor Paul Young FAHMS
Professor Paul Young FAHMS Head of School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland
Professor David Copolov AO
Professor David Copolov AO Prof Vice-Chancellor (Major Campuses and Student Engagement), Monash University
Peer reviewers
Professor Patrick Holt FAA
Professor Patrick Holt FAA Head – Human Immunology, Telethon Kids Institute
Professor Kristine Macartney
Professor Kristine Macartney Director, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance
Professor Helen Marshall
Professor Helen Marshall Medical Director, Vaccinology and Immunology Research Trials Unit (VIRTU), Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Professor Sarah Robertson FAA FAHMS
Professor Sarah Robertson FAA FAHMS Director, Robinson Research Institute
Image of Professor John Shine AC PresAA
Professor John Shine AC PresAA President of the Australian Academy of Science
Image of Professor Steven Wesselingh FAHMS
Professor Steven Wesselingh FAHMS Executive Director South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science

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