And, as for the analogous Russian vaccine, it is news to be taken with a grain of salt: phase 3 of experimentation – the decisive one – is just beginning, and the announcement of the patent is above all a move of political propaganda.

photo: Nicolas Asfouri / Getty Images

It’s called  Ad5-nCov , it is developed and produced by the Chinese pharmaceutical giant CanSino Biologics and is the number one candidate among the vaccines  made in China  to combat the coronavirus . And the news, according to communications from the state news agency Xinhua and statements made  by the company to Global Times , is that the formulation has been officially “patented” in Beijing.

What is Ad5-nCov and how it works

From a biological point of view, the CanSino Biologics vaccine consists of a  viral vector  capable of carrying some genes of the Sars-Cov-2 virus into human cells. The vector used is precisely the adenovirus 5 (similar to those that cause colds), which is first inactivated and then added with an ad hoc fragment of genetic material. The goal is for modified (recombined) adenovirus 5 to elicit an immune reaction and induce the production of the spike protein once it reaches and infected the cells. identical to that of Sars-Cov-2, therefore – hopefully – avert or at least reduce the effect of a possible infection due to the true coronavirus.

Together with the Chinese pharmaceutical multinational, which belongs to the Tianjin group, the Biotechnology Institute of the Chinese Military Medical Sciences Academy has actively contributed to the development of the vaccine, in particular through a research group led by Chen Wei. It is no coincidence that the news of the patent was presented as a scientific-political success by China, and in the last month the stock market value of the Tianjin group’s shares increased by about 20%.

Source: Getty Images

The ongoing path of experimentation

This is certainly not the first time that we hear about the Ad5-nCov vaccine, and indeed even here on Wired in the past few months we had reported on its progress . Let’s make a brief recap: in May, the vaccine successfully concluded phase 1 of the clinical trial (the one that evaluates the safety and tolerability of the drug , started according to the Chinese media as early as March) and had been able to start phase 2. The strong immune reaction triggered in the subjects subjected to the experiment had immediately given good hope, so much so that already in June the Chinese government had  “approved”the use of the vaccine in the ranks of the army, although it is unclear whether it was compulsorily or voluntarily administered to the military. And phase 2 confirmed the good immune response and low toxicity .

As is known, however, the decisive phase of the experimentation is number 3, the one that must determine the effects of the drug and the risk-benefit balance by administering it to a large sample of people, at least in the thousands. This is crucial to have more robust statistics on the efficacy of the vaccine, and also to verify whether adverse reactions  so far unknown (including those in rare or very rare form) emerge .

Well, Phase 3 testing for Ad5-nCov is still a big question mark. Although there has been talk of tests  “already in progress” , at the moment it seems that this experimentation will begin  by the end of August, starting from Saudi Arabia . Negotiations have been announced to extend the texts to other countries such as Brazil, Chile and Russia, but at the moment these are only diplomatic confrontations. Conversations with the United States, on the other hand, would have been suspended due to political tensions between the two states.

What is certain, however, is that the central government has granted a further “approval”  to the vaccine, ie in essence it has patented it to guarantee the intellectual property rights of the formulation to CanSino Biologics. The documents would have been signed as early as August 11 at the China National Intellectual Property Administration, but the news would have leaked (if we can say so) only last weekend.

Like Russia, more than Russia, less than others

Making direct comparisons between the various candidate vaccines against Covid-19 is not easy, also because much of the information is influenced by political and economic interests. This applies, of course, to the Russian vaccine as well as to the Chinese one and the US and European ones. According to the scientific evidence available, however, the vaccination solution in Beijing appears much less smoky than that of Moscow , if only because scientific publications relating to phase 1 and 2 trials are available . For phase 2, in particular, the study was published in the prestigious Lancet magazine on August 15th, and tells the results of the tests conducted on 603 adult volunteers , all from Wuhan.

According to official data from the World Health Organisation, however, the Ad5-nCov vaccine is not yet in phase 3 of the trial, in which there are instead other 6 vaccine candidates . Based on this ranking, which somehow summarises the state of the art of the vaccine race , the formulation of CanSino Biologics seems to be ahead of the Russian one, but lagging behind other promising competitors .

As already anticipated, until phase 3 of the experimentation is completed it is too early to make proclamations or forecasts, since it is precisely in this phase that (usually) many of the candidate drugs are discarded . For this reason, the announcement by the Chinese state media of the possibility of ” starting a mass production of the vaccine” to ” prevent the return of a new pandemic wave” seems rather risky .