We don't have vaccines for some viruses that have long menaced humanity, like HIV and Hepatitis C.
- The idea of having a coronavirus vaccine ready within 18 months has been widely accepted by many federal officials and lawmakers, as well as investors.
- But some experts are deeply skeptical of that timeline. And they point out we don't have vaccines for some viruses that have long menaced humanity, like HIV and Hepatitis C.
- SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges sees a less than a 20% chance that we will have a widely available vaccine that is proven effective in 2021. Even by 2023, he estimates the likelihood of achieving that is just 50%.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Lawmakers and public health officials are counting on a vaccine to help get life back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of research programs are underway to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Vaccines have historically faced costly, multiyear development timelines, but there's widespread optimism that the urgency of this pandemic will speed up the process this time.
For instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly stated it will take at least a year to 18 months to make a vaccine available.
Developing a vaccine in 18 months is optimistic by historical standards
That timetable may sound cautious, but it's optimistic by historical standards. And one top Wall Street biotech analyst who used to work in the vaccine business is "deeply skeptical" of this 18-month timeline.
Geoffrey Porges, an analyst at SVB Leerink, told Business Insider there is a less than a 20% chance that we will have an effective widely available vaccine in 2021. Even by 2023, he estimates the likelihood of achieving that is just 50%.
Porges has covered the biotech industry for 18 years and previously worked in the drug industry on vaccines. He has a medical degree from the University of Sydney.
Click here to read more about why Porges is skeptical we'll have a vaccine quickly
Taking shots in the dark against the coronavirus
Other prominent leaders have echoed Fauci's timeline. Melinda Gates said there was a "high likelihood" that we would have a vaccine in 18 months. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also said a vaccine is 18 months away.
But people with in-depth experience of developing vaccines are more skeptical of that timeline.
Dr. Paul Offit, who helped invent the rotavirus vaccine, told CNN that timeline was "ridiculously optimistic." Peter Hotez, the dean of Baylor University's National School of Tropical Medicine, told National Geographic the 18-month timeline "would be absolutely unprecedented."
Porges said that vaccine efforts are like shots in the dark against this virus and he emphasized how much we still don't know about this novel coronavirus.
The critical unknowns are focused on the body's reaction to being infected with the virus. The body responds to the virus by making antibodies, which are proteins crafted to fight it off.
Understanding how the body's immune system responds to the virus is important in crafting a vaccine because it will likely work by triggering these same immune responses without causing an infection. If the virus doesn't trigger the production of long-lasting antibodies, it may be difficult to craft a vaccine, for example.
Porges pointed out that there are a lot of diseases that take massive tolls on society and don't have vaccines. Many of them, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, are RNA viruses, like the novel coronavirus.
There's also the potential for a vaccine that doesn't prevent infections but lowers the risk of severe disease. This mixed efficacy would be similar to the flu vaccine.