Science cuts affect Brazilian vaccine studies against Covid

Researchers of national vaccines against Covid-19 are afraid that their projects lack public funding due to the recent cut of R$ 237 million in the MCTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Information) budget. Some studies look for other ways to obtain resources, such as fundraising campaigns on the internet and partnerships with the private sector.

Federal funding of immunizing research against the coronavirus it has been happening since last year and is highlighted by scientists as being of paramount importance for the advancement of studies.

Even before the recent cut, some projects already reported that the amount was not it was enough to cover the expenses with the available works. So, now, the fear becomes greater.

“Since the beginning of the year, we have seen that the MCTI promises are taking too long to be fulfilled, this when they are fulfilled. a clear reflection of the lack of money”, says Emanuel Maltempi, professor of biochemistry at the Federal University of Paran.

He coordinates the project for a vaccine completely national and, therefore, could have lower manufacturing costs.

The research has as its differential, he explains, the development of a particle coated with the protein of the coronavirus. “These particles stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against the virus protein. This is the novelty of the study”, says Maltempi.

The project also intends to test the application of the immunizing agent via the nasal route, which can increase the immune response. However, Maltempi states that “there is a lack of people” to work on this front of the initiative and, therefore, this part of the efforts has been postponed.

At the moment, the research is in preclinical study when animal tests are performed. The intention was to finish this stage by the end of this year, but, due to budget delays, the current perspective is that this phase is for the first half of 2022.

Still, there is the doubt. Maltempi is afraid, mainly because the new cut in the MCTI budget “should affect new notices that would be scheduled for next year”, to which he intended to compete.

So far, the Maltempi research has received from MCTI an investment of approximately R$ 237 thousand reais in July of last year. “a small amount, which was enough to prove that the concept worked”, says the professor.

Therefore, he had to look for other ways to finance the study, with a contribution of approximately R$ 700 thousand reais from the government of Paran. An internet campaign was also created for the population to collaborate with donations. The goal is to raise R$ 76 million, an amount that Maltempi estimates is sufficient for the phase of studies in humans. For the time being, according to the action’s transparency portal, about R$ 182 thousand.

[esse cenário] have been collected “This is a lower value than other projects, which can reach R$ 237 million”, he says.

Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at USP, Jorge Kalil also develops a national vaccine against Covid-19 and demonstrates concerns about the future of research. He entered last week with a request from Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) to start tests on humans.

The project, an immunizing spray applied through the nose, carried out in the laboratory of Incor (Institute of the Heart) of the Hospital das Clnicas of USP and has funds from the MCTI, with a contribution, in April of last year, of R$ 4.5 million.

To continue with the work, Kalil plans to submit the research in a Ministry notice for projects that will carry out clinical trials in phases 1 and 2. In each selected project, the portfolio will invest up to R$ 30 million, according to the text of the notice. However, the scientist is concerned whether, given the recent cut, the expected amount will in fact be released.

A Folha sought out the Ministry to comment if this notice for studies in humans undergoes changes, but the folder did not respond until the conclusion of the report.

Kalil also points out that the cut in Science could affect the resources for masters, doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships. Only the scholarship holders, he recalls, a large part of the Brazilian research workforce, his project at Incor does not deviate from this pattern. he has sought support from the private sector. “We are talking to some Brazilian private laboratories that could carry out the vaccine and that would also participate in all this effort to carry out the tests”, he says.

This type of partnership with the private sector, it already occurs in the study of another candidate vaccine against Covid developed in Brazil. Versamune is a project of the Faculty of Medicine of USP Ribeiro Preto and Farmacore, a startup in the biotechnology area, also based in the city of São Paulo.

In total, The study has already had an investment of R$ 19 million from the private sector, says Helena Faccioli, CEO of Farmacore. Via MCTI, the investment was approximately R$ 8 million. The research has already been qualified by the folder to have contributions to carry out the tests on humans in the first two phases.

Asked to comment on whether the budget cuts could affect the progress from Versamune, the Faculty of Medicine of USP in Ribeiro Preto did not comment.

Another project that was also selected by the MCTI to finance the phases of studies in humans was that of SpiN-TEC, a vaccine originated from a partnership between UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and Fiocruz Minas. According to Ricardo Gazzinelli, professor at the university and research coordinator, the project should receive R$ 10 million due to a federal public notice.

However, the funds have not yet been released. The notice, explains the scientist, puts as a condition for this that the vaccine must first have the approval of Anvisa to carry out clinical tests. But now, even if the approval of the regulatory agency leaves, the scenario is worrying, he says.

“No one has received it yet. and we don’t know if this cut [do orçamento no MCTI] will impact that too. In other words, the cut can indeed impact the development of these vaccines. We live in a time of great uncertainty and we are trying to reverse [esse cenário]”, he says.

The professor also sees uncertainties in the future of the National Vaccine Center, a partnership between UFMG and MCTI, whose cornerstone was laid at the end of September this year. The location, explains Gazzinelli, would be essential for the development of national immunization agents, a gap that exists even before the pandemic.

After the budget cut at the MCTI, Minister Marcos Pontes admitted that the construction of the center is under risk of not happening.

“If [a construção do Centro] does not occur, it will be another delay in the area of ​​national vaccines. There are diseases that we have and the pharmaceutical industry is not interested,” says Gazzinelli.

A Sheet questioned the MCTI whether the investments in vaccines already selected for the conduct of clinical studies will be maintained and also whether solutions have already been sought for the construction of the National Vaccine Center, but received no response.


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