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The first U.S. coronavirus vaccine trials have begun

March 17, 2020, 9:36 PM UTC

Happy Tuesday, readers.

As states and the federal government take more aggressive measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Boston-based Moderna is advancing in the race to create a vaccine against the pathogen.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that Moderna’s experimental mRNA-1273, which was developed in collaboration with the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has entered phase one clinical trials at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle.

Government officials had telegraphed the launch of these studies, the first coronavirus vaccine trials in the U.S., on Monday. 45 healthy adult volunteers aged 18 to 45 will be enrolled in the trial over the next six weeks, according to the NIH.

Phase one trials are, as you might suspect, the earliest stage of the clinical process. They’re meant to prove that a treatment will actually be safe for a human before it advances to later-stage studies to establish efficacy in a wider population.

“The study is evaluating different doses of the experimental vaccine for safety and its ability to induce an immune response in participants,” wrote the NIH in a statement.

Moderna’s rise in this moment is striking given that some in the biotech community have been reluctant to embrace the technology platform at the firm’s heart. So-called “mRNA” tech, which uses messenger RNA to tell cells to express a certain protein that then leads to an immune response, theoretically helps build up immunity to a virus. But given how early such technologies are in the development process, there’s been skepticism in some corners of the biotech world about its promise.

The question is, can Moderna turn that narrative around?

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee

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