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Piero Di Lorenzo – The road map to get a vaccine La7 – Coffee Break – 25th February

ENGLISH TRANSCRIPT

ANDREA PANCANI

So let’s go to Piero di Lorenzo. Mr Di Lorenzo you’re working on a long-awaited goal, which is to develop a Coronavirus vaccine.

Can you tell us where you started and what the road map is to getting a vaccine?

PIERO DI LORENZO

Yes, good morning. We’re about to start production of the first 1000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. We’re about to start producing it now that two centers of expertise have joined together, the University of Oxford and the Jenner Institute of the University of Oxford, which has a… sorry, can we stop the audio feedback…

ANDREA PANCANI

There’s some feedback, we’ll sort it out for you now, go ahead.

PIERO DI LORENZO

Thank you. If you can. As I was saying, the Jenner Institute of the University of Oxford has isolated… after the Chinese isolated and sequenced the Coronavirus gene in question, they immediately started synthesizing the “Spike” protein in December. What does that mean?

The Jenner Institute in Oxford is an international center of excellence for the study of vaccines and has been monitoring the Coronavirus since the Sars outbreak. In fact it developed a vaccine for Sars and is currently running tests for the Mers vaccine in Saudi Arabia.

Therefore it knows the Coronavirus better than anybody. And this expertise is combined with ours, as we have well-established experience in the field of adeno-viruses, since we developed and produced the Ebola vaccine. We have continued to work with Oxford since then.

This collaboration is proving invaluable today, because the work they have done on the Spike protein, which is the crown of the virus, the bad part, will now allow our laboratories to find the shuttle, the vehicle which, suitably weakened, can carry it into the human body so that the vaccinated person can produce antibodies if the real Spike protein, the bad one, I repeat, should enter their body, and would thus be immunized.

So, to be accurate, we have characterized the adeno-virus,

i.e. the Shuttle, and we have created the conditions for it to receive the Spike protein synthesized at Oxford and now we are completing the process of purifying the adeno-virus to start producing the first 1000 doses from next week and we expect, as I assume the question is on everyone’s lips, we expect to be ready with these 1000 doses in June, at the end of June, so that we can immediately move on animal trials.

ANDREA PANCANI

After that we’ll have to carry out clinical trials on humans, won’t we?

The next step.

PIERO DI LORENZO

Yes. I would say that if, as we expect, no particularly significant toxicities or side effects are found in animals, we can move on to this by the end of July, because in the meantime we will continue to produce the vaccine, Human trials at the end of July, then there is a discussion to be had about the spread of the epidemic.

ANDREA PANCANI

I could see Purgatori and Sansonetti…I don’t know if you had any questions for Di Lorenzo…

ANDREA PANCANI

Meanwhile the nasty one is called Spike, as I understand it, right?

ANDREA PURGATORI

Yes. It seems interesting but it means that we…

ANDREA PANCANI

Before the end of the year…

ANDREA PURGATORI

At best we won’t have a vaccine before autumn or even the end of the year. So the problem is containing the epidemic, containing the outbreaks and avoiding… because if it turned into a very aggressive epidemic that infected thousands and thousands of people the healthcare facilities equipped to manage it would be unable to… they would be insufficient. This is the real point.

PAOLO CIRINO POMICINO

However, I should say that, as we have seen in Veneto, some infected people are in self-isolation at home.

ANDREA PANCANI

Yes, at home.

ANDREA PURGATORI

I would like to ask…

ANDREA PANCANI

OK let’s do this, as we have a commercial break now, after the break if Silvestro Scotti has any questions to ask Piero di Lorenzo…

SILVESTRO SCOTTI

Absolutely, absolutely

ANDREA PANCANI

Because clearly he is very curious and justifiably interested in the development of a vaccine, as we all are. See you in a couple of minutes.

ANDREA PANCANI

So we have a question for Di Lorenzo from Scotti, the FIMMG Secretary, go ahead.

SILVESTRO SCOTTI

We’re also trying to find some positive sides to the Coronavirus panic effect. It will be possible, if things go well and can be completed within the expected time,

to consider a joint flu jab and Coronavirus vaccination next November, this would be a positive outcome,

given that Italians tend to vaccinate very little or not at all, perhaps the scare we are having now… So having a single product in which the flu vaccine can be administered together with the Coronavirus one.

ANDREA PANCANI

Let’s hear what Di Lorenzo has to say.

PIERO DI LORENZO

What Andrea Purgatori was saying just now is completely right. Going by the time take by regulators to issue authorizations, an authorization for mass vaccination using this vaccine would not come quickly at all.

Let’s hope this is not the case because as the lesser evil principle applies in scientific research, and therefore implementation, if the pandemic were to become as big as many newspaper headlines have suggested, the regulators would probably be convinced to cut the implementation times drastically. I should point out that in the case of the Ebola vaccine

we submitted an application for authorization to the US NIH in the morning and we were given the authorization by the evening. It normally takes a year.

So clearly it is all an ongoing process and all in one… it all has to be verified in the field, based on what happens. As for your question, I would rule out this possibility. Because we are working on a specific vaccine and all our energies are focused on finding a remedy to the epidemic that is happening at the moment.

I cannot rule out general discussions being held in future.

I want to say something about this. We need to say things as they are. In 2016, the Lazio Region, very bravely in my opinion, earmarked significant funds for research into the Zika virus, because a person had fallen ill in the region, in Anzio I think, so very quickly the regional council decided to allocate money for this research to be done.

Some people joked that the Lazio Region was funding research on a virus that was creating an epidemic in Brazil. I think these jokes were unwarranted because since then we have been doing research in this very field as part of a public/private consortium, the CNCCS. And I think this advance preparation can lead to a quick remedy being found in the unfortunate event of it being needed.

I say this to underline that what the doctor is saying the studio is definitely desirable. But we need to think about it when there isn’t an ongoing emergency, we need to think about it in normal circumstances.

ANDREA PANCANI

Very clear. I don’t know whether you have any other questions for Mr Di Lorenzo, otherwise we can say goodbye as he has to be somewhere. Anyway thank you, it’s important to know that an excellent company in Italy is working to develop… huh?

PIERO SANSONETTI

And let us know as soon as… the five of us…

ANDREA PANCANI

Yes, of course, let us know immediately, but it isn’t ready. Thanks to Piero Di Lorenzo and good luck with your work, and thanks to all the researchers and employees of the IRBM SCIENCE PARK.

PIERO DI LORENZO

Thank you.

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