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Turkish scientist hopeful of COVID-19 vaccine

Turkish scientist hopeful of COVID-19 vaccine

A leading scientist in Turkey is optimistic that a safe and effective vaccine can be developed against the novel coronavirus and said he and his colleagues are working around the clock to produce results as soon as possible.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Prof. Dr. Ihsan Gursel of Bilkent University delivered remarks on vaccination studies in Turkey, the latest developments and how the vaccine studies on COVID-19 triggered a major scientific initiative to study viruses.

“We are literally working 24/7 without any interruption. We were provided with special permission to work even during the peak of the lockdown when curfews were declared. The vaccine development process usually requires up to 4-5 years, yet we confirmed as part of our project that phase studies would be ready within a period of eight months,” said Gursel who has been leading a group of over 20 scientists.

Gursel, who is co-chair of the scientific program of the European Congress of Immunology and is preparing to head the Turkish Society of Immunology, noted that his group began working on the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine shortly after the virus emerged and studied various vaccine formulations and vaccine antigens, finally leading to the uninfected version of the virus.

“We make cells produce SARS-CoV-2 virus-specific proteins and synthesize virus-like particles which form the antigen source of our vaccine,” he said, adding dose optimization was conducted in animal trials and essential documents were filed to the ethics committee in Turkey.

Gursel said the vaccination studies were “promising” as his group learned about the virus, designed the vaccine antigen and is preparing to get ready for human-phase studies of the vaccination. He said although finding a 100% cure for the virus within a short time may prove difficult, the spread of the pandemic worldwide could be significantly controlled if global vaccination efforts brought 50% protection to societies.

“Even the flu vaccine does not offer full protection against the disease. Vaccines in this sense are designed to prove some 50% protection,” he said, adding influenza was sort of a virus going through immense mutation, unlike SARS-CoV-2, whose mutation frequency was relatively less.

“However, let’s not forget the fact that the coronavirus is also a very complicated one.

“Therefore, it is almost impossible that a vaccine [for the coronavirus] with 100% protection could be offered within a period of one or two years. But the main goal is that scientists come up with an effective and safe vaccine that can eliminate the risk of infection,” he added.

According to Gursel, Turkey has attached great importance to the issue of vaccinations and drugs with the emergence of the coronavirus, noting that leading universities had joined forces and a consortium was built to tackle the outbreak and the experience gained during this period could significantly contribute to future studies.

“Our consortium provides information on pathogens and other pandemics, and we have learned a great deal during this process…The determination and sheer will of our science teams will contribute to our understanding of the virus issue in possible future pandemics and outbreaks, and it will get much easier to assemble such research squads in the future,” he said.

He underlined that his crew includes several of master and doctorate students of whom he is proud of as they did not refrain from making sacrifices to come up with a solid vaccine.

“Some of my students do not even come in physical contact with their families in a bid to avoid risking infection and delay the course of our studies. Some of them do not even go to their homes and stay at dormitories and work day and night. These young individuals are going to be part of the vaccine industry in the future and become world-class scientists.”

Turkey has reported near 275,000 coronavirus cases and over 248,000 recoveries. The country’s death toll stands at 6,511 while over 1,000 patients are in critical condition.

Since originating in Wuhan, China in December, the virus has claimed more than 868,000 lives in 188 countries and regions.

Over 26.3 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with recoveries over 17.5 million, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University.