Baylor COVID-19 vaccine joins ranks with competitors

The Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology (BURST) Research Internship Day hosted Dr. Maria Elena Botazzi for a seminar on her research and development for a COVID-19 vaccine. Screenshot by Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

Biopharmaceutical company Biological E has scaled and now can produce 1.2 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by Baylor professors, Associate Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Baylor Professor Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi said in a keynote presentation for Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology (BURST) Research Internship Day.

The company has already submitted regulatory documents for the drug to start clinical trials in the next couple of weeks in India, Bottazzi said.

According to the COVID-19 treatment and vaccine tracker by FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, they’ve documented 318 treatments and 213 vaccines in development as of Oct. 8.

“Just that number for a single disease is unprecedented,” Bottazzi said. “It’s very rare that you have 200 different groups, or 200 different vaccines, being developed for a single organism or disease. We now have 35 that are in clinical testing. You might ask, ‘Why do you need so many?’ Because, honestly only around maybe one, two, three, maybe five percent of all of these will actually make it to the end. So the more you have at the beginning, the more chance that we’re going to get at least two or three, maybe half a dozen if we’re lucky.”

Bottazzi said that approval for vaccines, which is set at a very low bar right now, is based on its product profile. As long as it can show that it is safe and can block at least 50% of the severity of the disease, it is approved.

“These vaccines, even though would be ideal if they worked, they’re not tested to only be approved if they prevent the infection, but they are looking for vaccines that can prevent some of the infection, in a way that it can reduce the severity and level of mortality,” Bottazzi said.

The Baylor College of Medicine and National School of Tropical Medicine was able to quickly deploy its vaccine after its officials knew about the virus in January because they had started working on coronavirus vaccines in 2011. However, they didn’t have the funds to keep the research going until now, Bottazzi said.

Frisco freshman Trent Rothell attended the keynote presentation.

“I think this goes to show we need to start investing money in projects to solve problems before they happen and not as we meet them,” Rothell said. “If Dr. Bottazzi was able to procure funding before COVID, we may already have a viable vaccine from her lab instead of it only currently being in the testing phase.”

Bottazzi said she hopes this reinvigorates the importance of better business and investment strategies in vaccine research and development.

“So that they are not all this stop and go that we had in the case of SARS,” she said. “We started, we got a grant, we worked on it and when the grant ended, because there was no more SARS, nobody cared about it anymore. Instead, say we should still continue it because what if it were to come back, or something similar. Hopefully, that’s going to change the landscape.”