A story in today’s New York Times outlines the development of the first second-generation COVID-19 vaccine, based on a new version of the spike protein. This viral vector vaccine, euphoniously named NVD-HXP-S, is in first-round human trials now in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its properties, if proven out, are pretty sensational: Strong efficacy, can be manufactured in any facility that can make flu vaccines (there are many of these around the world including in relatively low-tech countries), extremely cheap to make, and much easier to distribute (normal refrigeration). The nature of the new spike could also make these vaccines more robust against variants–that remains to be seen.
If this vaccine lives up to its potential, it will be a powerful tool to bring down the global pandemic. It will also, in that case, upend the use of currently-scarce vaccines to pursue geopolitical ends, a path China and Russia have pursued most aggressively, and which the US, India and UK/EU are preparing to counter. This vaccine could potentially outflank all of the first-generation vaccines now in use.
Meanwhile, the scientist who developed the first-generation spike protein (2P) which is the basis for four major vaccines, and has now developed this new spike (Hexapro), is back at work on the third generation. His name is Jason McLellan, and he’s at the University of Texas. At this rate, he’s bucking for a Nobel. Kudos also to Seattle’s own PATH and the Gates Foundation for their significant roles in pushing this vaccine forward. If all goes well, it could be available by this fall. Cross your fingers.