Pfizer is already working on a new coronavirus vaccine that could get around its biggest problem of needing to be kept in extremely cold temperatures, Business Insider has learned.
“We are thinking about a few possibilities for next-generation vaccines,” Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, told Business Insider in a Monday video interview. “For the COVID-19 disease, I think we’ll roll out next year a vaccine in powder format.”
A powder version would not require the burdensome cold-chain storage that’s a key limitation of Pfizer’s current candidate, which needs to be stored frozen at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the US and other developed countries can likely build up the infrastructure to deliver a frozen vaccine, it would be increasingly difficult to immunize people in poorer parts of the world. And even in the US, many state officials aren’t sure how well they’ll be able to deal with storage and transport requirements.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine candidate demonstrated a high level of efficacy in the final stage of clinical testing, the New York drugmaker announced Monday. A two-dose regimen of the shot appeared to be more than 90% effective in protecting people from COVID-19, the company said.
Pfizer’s initial vaccine requires deep-freezing temperatures
Pfizer’s operations and logistics teams have been preparing for this challenge for the past few months. The company will ship the vaccine by air and land using dry ice, along with reusable GPS temperature-monitoring devices, executives said in a September presentation.
Even still, many hospital systems lack the storage facilities to keep the vaccine cold enough, including some of the most reputable US hospitals, such as the Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, Reuters reported.
“We’re a major medical center and we don’t have storage capacity like this,” Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic virologist, told Reuters. “That will be true for everybody. This is a logistical obstacle.”
A powder vaccine could make it easier to distribute
Even as the vaccine has yet to be approved, or even apply for regulatory approval, Pfizer’s chief scientist highlighted the potential for a second-generation version that could have less-onerous temperature requirements.
A powder version could come next year that wouldn’t need supercold storage, Dolsten said, though he didn’t specify at which temperature it would need to be stored at.
“We think we could already in 2021 develop a powder form that could be just for refrigeration,” he said. “That would be one simplification.”
Pfizer worked with the German biotech BioNTech to develop its coronavirus vaccine using a new technological platform called messenger RNA. Dolsten predicted this wouldn’t be the duo’s last mRNA work on infectious-disease vaccines, with the potential looming for future epidemic scares.
“I don’t think this is the end of the coronavirus invasion,” he said. “There will likely be other coronaviruses as we have seen starting in 2003 with SARS, followed by MERS and now COVID-19.”