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COVID-19 vaccines should be focused on most vulnerable: Doctor

More companies are looking to produce a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Mark Poznansky, Director of Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move to break down HaloVax's coronavirus vaccine.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We invite into the program Dr. Marc Poznansky. He's director of the Vaccine and Immune Therapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. And you're also working on a potential vaccine with the hospital's partner, Halifax LLC, which is part of Voltron Therapeutics. It's all a mouthful to get out there.

Just bring us up to speed on where your vaccine potentially stands because you haven't even started animal testing yet, have you?

MARK POZNANSKY: Yeah. Well, thank you for inviting me here to talk about this. Yeah, so we're just-- we'll be entering first in animal testing next month. So the construct has been designed and is being assembled in the laboratory here in conjunction with Voltron Therapeutics, and it will be entering into first animal testing basically next month.

We will run a second animal model in parallel so that we comply with the FDA two-animal rule, that you need to test it in two animals before it can go to first in human. But given the accelerated timelines that everyone's following, we will move this as fast as possible to first in human.

JULIE HYMAN: Dr. Poznansky, this is Julie here. Talk to me about this vaccine effort versus vaccine efforts in the past to attack other types of situations and diseases. It seems as though obviously there's a lot bigger push for speed here. But, you know, we keep throwing around the word unprecedented. It seems like the vaccine efforts are unprecedented too. Describe to us what's going on and what is so different about this push.

MARK POZNANSKY: Well, the difference is that there are at least a hundred horses in the race, and we've got some leaders up front currently, Moderna and the Oxford group and so forth. But that is unprecedented to have that many platforms at play putting a product into testing to try to get to first in human.

I think that's our huge advantage at this point because, frankly speaking, we didn't actually know where the end point of this race is. And at this point about AstraZeneca committing to a billion doses or whatever is we don't know exactly what that vaccine is that we need yet to be able to protect the population.

And there's another really key point that I think is not discussed about what the end of the race looks like-- in other words, a safe and effective vaccine-- is who is that for? Given the-- I also serve as an infectious-disease attending in the hospital-- in Mass General Hospital here. The most vulnerable populations are the ones that we want to vaccinate most urgently, those that are at risk because of other comorbidities like diabetes, obesity, and so forth but then also those over the age of 60 who are clearly more at risk from the most serious consequences.

So when you target a vaccine you may say, well, we need a billion bases, but actually we need a safe and effective doses-- a safe and effective vaccine first for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and also the front-line workers that are most exposed to the virus.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And we know that there's a lot of compression about the manufacturing and the unprecedented demand. As you're saying, who does it go for first, and where does it get distributed? And then when after that does it reach sort of the general population? What are your thoughts on how you are going to go about dealing with the manufacturing part of it?

MARK POZNANSKY: Well, we've very fortunate as a sort of an academic group with our own platform that was actually developed with Department of Defense support-- with actually DARPA Defense initially, which was that we partnered with an industry company right away in order to make sure that as soon as we had a product, it could go down a product-development line because academic universities do not make products. Pharmaceutical companies make products, and we partnered right away with one so that as this proves principle, if it does, in animals, we have a product development path. Goes straight into first in human. There will be no bumps in the road other than the data that's generated that inform us whether we have to go back and redesign the vaccine or whether we can go forward and go into first-in-human safety studies.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Dr. Poznansky, what's the soonest that vaccine, if it works, would be available to the most needy?

MARK POZNANSKY: Can you just repeat that? You broke up in the middle of that question.

ADAM SHAPIRO: What's the soonest that your vaccine would be available?

MARK POZNANSKY: I would say 12 to 18 months. It would have got through the first-in-human safety studies at that particular point.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right, Dr. Mark Poznansky, director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, we appreciate your being here "On The Move."