The race is on to find a vaccine for COVID-19. The good news is that many of the world’s largest vaccine companies are developing promising vaccine candidates using ethically-derived cells. The bad news is that many of the leading vaccine candidates for the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) are being developed using fetal cell lines that were originally derived from the tissues of aborted babies in the 1970s and 80s.

According to a tracker from the World Health Organization, there are now more than 120 vaccine candidates in development. Of these, 10 vaccine candidates have already advanced to clinical trials to test the vaccine candidate’s safety and efficacy. Several more candidates are expected to begin clinical trials before the end of the year.

Fetal Stem Cells Being Used

Several COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners, including those being developed by Moderna, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, CanSino Biologics/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, are using a human fetal kidney cell line called HEK-293 to develop their trial vaccines. HEK-293 was originally derived from kidney tissue taken from a baby girl who was aborted in the Netherlands in 1972 and later developed into a cell line in a lab in 1973.

Additionally, Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of consumer product giant Johnson & Johnson, is using the human fetal cell line PER.C6 to develop its vaccine. The PER.C6 fetal cell line was derived from retinal tissue taken from an 18-week-old baby boy who was aborted in the Netherlands in 1985 and later converted into a fetal cell line in 1995.

The U.S. government has made grants totaling nearly $2 billion in support of the development of COVID-19 vaccines using fetal cell lines. Most of this funding has been awarded through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Ethically-Produced COVID-19 Vaccines in the Pipeline

While many COVID-19 vaccines are being developed with fetal cell lines, a number of promising vaccine candidates, such as those being developed by Novavax, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Sinovac, are using ethically-derived cell lines.

Of particular note, rival pharmaceutical giants Sanofi Pasteur and GSK have teamed up in an unprecedented partnership to jointly develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV2. Sanofi Pasteur will be bringing to the table an ethically produced antigen for the vaccine and GSK will be contributing an adjuvant—an immune response booster that improves the effectiveness of a vaccine.

A vaccine being developed by Maryland-based Novavax is using an ethically-derived invertebrate cell line Sf9 to produce protein nanoparticle antigens that make its vaccine work.

In animal studies, Novavax’s candidate demonstrated that the vaccine produces antibodies to the SARS-CoV2 spike protein and produces neutralizing antibodies capable of isolating and destroying the SARS-CoV2 virus. Novavax’s vaccine has already been approved for a fast-tracked phase I/II stage clinical trial. Results for the vaccine candidate’s safety profile and immunogenicity (the ability to induce an effective immune response in the body) are expected by July.

Sinovac, a China-based biotech company, is also working on an ethically-derived vaccine candidate called PiCoVacc. PiCoVacc uses a purified inactivated SARS-CoV2 as an antigen. Sinvovac’s antigen is ethically grown in Vero (monkey kidney) cells. Sinovac’s vaccine is currently undergoing expedited phase I/II clinical trials.

Full story at Population Research Institute.