Experimental coronavirus vaccine tested at Emory shows encouraging results

ATLANTA — An experimental vaccine against the coronavirus showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers, its maker announced Monday.

Study volunteers given either a low or medium dose of the vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. had antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Atlanta’s Emory University first enrolled adults for the clinical testing in March. It started with 45 health adults age 18 to 55 in Atlanta and Seattle. The second phase is expanding to include 30 participants ages 56 to 70 years old and 30 adults over age 71, according to Emory’s website.

[READ: The fight against coronavirus: A clinical trial participant talks about his experience]

In the next phase of the study, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers will try to determine which dose is best for a definitive experiment that they aim to start in July.

The first 45 people have received one or two shots of the vaccine, which was being tested at three different doses. The kind of detailed antibody results needed to assess responses are only available on eight volunteers so far.

“It tells us even at the lowest doses we tested, the 25 microgram dose, we are already seeing an immune response at the level of people who’ve been infected with this virus,” said Dr. Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer at Moderna.

The vaccine seems safe, the company said, but much more extensive testing is needed to see if it remains so. A high dose version is being dropped after spurring some short-term side effects.

The results have not been published and are only from the first of three stages of testing that vaccines and drugs normally undergo. U.S. government officials have launched a project called "Operation Warp Speed" to develop a vaccine and hopefully have 300 million doses by January.

Channel 2 Action News reported in March that Emory was also testing the drug remdesivir an experimental drug that until now, was primarily used to treat Ebola patients.

Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or nearing it. Health officials have said that if all goes well, studies of a potential vaccine might wrap up by very late this year or early next year.

More than 4.7 million infections and 315,000 deaths from the coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide since it emerged in China late last year. There are no specific approved treatments, although several are being used on an emergency basis after showing some promise in preliminary testing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report