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MERIDEN, CT – A Connecticut company called Protein Sciences is hoping to use what it learned in developing a SARS vaccine candidate to create a new vaccine to protect people against COVID-19.

Clem Lewin, the Sanofi representative to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said Protein Sciences is working on a “virus cell bank” to replicate the spike proteins in the virus in order to begin testing. Protein Sciences was purchased in 2018 by Sanofi, a giant drugmaker based in Paris.

Lewin said they are not replicating the virus, just the proteins. The spike proteins will infect the cells and help the body produce an immune response to the virus when someone is infected. 

“We’re working extremely hard to develop this vaccine as quickly and fast as possible,” Lewin said. “We recognize the public health emergency. It’s not business as usual for us.”

He declined to say whether they would skip animal testing and start immediately testing a vaccine on humans.

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“The sense of urgency is felt,” Lewin said.

He declined to say how long it might take to develop a vaccine.

The SARS vaccine candidate never made it to testing because the threat from the disease subsided.

“We are working as quickly as possible to get a vaccine out to people,” Lewin said.

That’s if they succeed in creating one. There’s no guarantee they will be able to produce a successful vaccine.

Mireli Fino, site director at Protein Sciences, said they are working with their federal partners to move as quickly as they can to develop a vaccine and begin clinical trials.

There are 100 employees at Protein Sciences in Meriden. Fino said not all of them will be working on the vaccine at the same time because it’s done in stages.

Fino said she thinks they can manufacture 100 to 600 million doses once they get to the manufacturing process, but it will depend on the yield.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said SARS belongs to the same family as coronaviruses. She said if they find a vaccine then they will be able to manufacture it in Connecticut.

Fino and Lewin declined to speculate on where it would be manufactured.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Protein Sciences was on the frontline of SARS and developed a flu vaccine that’s made without a chicken egg or a live virus.

“This COVID-19 is spreading very quickly, it’s highly infectious,” Lamont said.

He said Protein Sciences is giving them “hope.”

“We don’t know what the life cycle is of COVID-19,” Lamont said.

Lewin said it’s unclear at the moment whether someone would have to receive one shot or annual shots because it’s unknown if the virus will mutate like the flu.

Lamont will give an update on what the state is doing at 3 p.m. There are now four positive cases in the state and the state lab has tested less than 100 people.

Lamont said they’ve doubled the testing capacity over the past few days, but that’s not enough.

Lamont said he’s working with the General Assembly on an emergency relief package, which would include assistance for businesses.

Gov. Ned Lamont answers questions at Protein Sciences, one of the companies that is working on a coronavirus vaccine.

Posted by CTNewsJunkie on Thursday, March 12, 2020