Moderna's chief scientist Tal Zaks opened up on Wednesday about the progress of the company's coronavirus vaccine in an interview with 103FM's Ben Caspit and Aryeh Eldad. The following is a transcript of the interview, modified for clarity.
103FM: There are many companies that are racing to find a vaccine, how will we know which vaccine to pick?
Zaks: I believe that we would take the vaccine that would show the most promising results in the later stages of the clinical tests, what’s often called the “third phase,” in which we could potentially prove that it is indeed effective.
How far have you managed to progress? All 45 test subjects developed antibodies against the virus, correct?
This is true. They haven’t just developed antibodies, these antibodies can effectively fight the virus. When we are examining the results, we are looking at two things: the first, whether or not there are antibodies that can attach themselves to the virus, the second, can these antibodies neutralize the virus’ ability to infect other cells.
Are you testing people who declared that they are ready for the live virus after they were vaccinated to make sure it’s actually effective?
The answer is no. The aim was to see if we can prevent the spread of the virus among different groups, including high-risk groups, who are mostly elderly or people with underlying medical conditions.
But then again you have to vaccinate thousands of people in order to compare their results to the control group that did not get the vaccine.
That is correct. The research itself will vaccinate 30,000 people, half of which will get the vaccine while the other half won’t.
So what’s happening now? More importantly, what’s the time frame? Are you entering the second phase?
Phase II has already been completed. We are currently monitoring our volunteers. Some 600 people were tested as we are trying to understand the side effects and to confirm the safety of the vaccine. Phase III is the research that will begin in roughly two weeks. Its completion largely depends on the number of the infected subjects among those who will be vaccinated. The research will be concluded once we have less infected subjects among those who have been vaccinated in comparison to the control group.
Where do you vaccinate people? Are you looking for specific areas?
We are conducting this research in the United States. We are examining the spread of the virus and plan on opening research centers in the most heavily affected areas so that we can effectively test our vaccine on the local population - public servants, medical staff, etc. If I am to conduct this research here in Israel on people who remain in their homes, the chances of finding those who actually get infected is lower.
Time frame for a vaccine?
It’s not that simple. I remain optimistic. It largely depends on the data we are collecting and how soon we will be able to produce the first vaccines. When and to whom it will be distributed is not up to me. Local governments will be responsible for distributing it.
And you are suggesting that there might be a need to take more than one dose?
It is likely that within a year or two or maybe even more there might be a need to take a booster shot.
One last question, where are you from?
I was born in Haifa. I completed my medical studies at Ben-Gurion University. I am an oncologist, actually, but I have been in charge of all the clinical developments in the company for the past five years.