Turkish scientist hopeful of coronavirus vaccine amid round-the-clock work

Turkish scientist hopeful of coronavirus vaccine amid round-the-clock work


All around Turkey scientists are racing against time to develop a vaccine as the coronavirus outbreak continues to take its toll on the population.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Dr. Ihsan Gürsel of Bilkent University in the capital Ankara remarked on vaccination research in Turkey, the latest developments and how vaccine studies for COVID-19 triggered a major scientific initiative to study viruses.

Gürsel has been leading a group of over 20 scientists. “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 four to five years, yet we confirmed as part of our project that phase studies would be ready within a period of eight months,” he said.

Gürsel, who is the 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 a COVID-19 vaccine shortly after it 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 with the ethics committee in Turkey.

Gürsel said the studies were “promising” as his group learns about the virus, designs the vaccine antigen and prepares for the human-phase studies of the vaccination. He said although finding a 100% cure for the coronavirus 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 provide some 50% protection,” he said, adding that influenza is a type of virus that goes through immense mutation, unlike SARS-CoV-2, whose mutation frequency is relatively lower. “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 Gürsel, 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 established 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 he is proud of his crew, which includes several masters and doctorate students, as they did not refrain from making personal 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 registered 1,642 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 274,943. Meanwhile, the total number of recoveries reached 248,087, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter. Citing Health Ministry data, Koca said some 1,211 patients recovered from COVID-19 over the past day. Meanwhile, the death toll in the country reached 6,511, as 49 more people lost their lives. Health care professionals conducted 110,225 more tests over the last 24 hours, pushing the tally to 7.4 million, Koca said. Of those infected, 7.6% suffer from pneumonia. The number of patients in critical condition increased to 1,041.