Preston Estep was alone in a borrowed laboratory, somewhere in Boston. No big company, no board meetings, no billion-dollar payout from Operation Warp Speed, the US government’s covid-19 vaccine funding program. No animal data. No ethics approval.
What he did have: ingredients for a vaccine. And one willing volunteer.
Estep swirled together the mixture and spritzed it up his nose.
Nearly 200 covid-19 vaccines are in development and some three dozen are at various stages of human testing. But in what appears to be the first “citizen science” vaccine initiative, Estep and at least 20 other researchers, technologists, or science enthusiasts, many connected to Harvard University and MIT, have volunteered as lab rats for a do-it-yourself inoculation against the coronavirus. They say it’s their only chance to become immune without waiting a year or more for a vaccine to be formally approved.
Among those who’ve taken the DIY vaccine is George Church, the celebrity geneticist at Harvard University, who took two doses a week apart earlier this month. The doses were dropped in his mailbox and he mixed the ingredients himself.
Church believes the vaccine designed by Estep, his former graduate student at Harvard and one of his proteges, is extremely safe. “I think we are at much bigger risk from covid considering how many ways you can get it, and how highly variable the consequences are,” says Church, who says he has not stepped outside of his house in five months. The US Centers for Disease Control recently reported that as many as one-third of patients who test positive for covid-19 but are never hospitalized battle symptoms for weeks or even months after contracting the virus. “I think that people are highly underestimating this disease,” Church says.
Harmless as the experimental vaccine may be, though, whether it will protect anyone who takes it is another question. And the independent researchers who are making and sharing it might be stepping onto thin legal ice, if they aren’t there already.
The group, calling itself the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, or Radvac, formed in March. That’s when Estep sent an email to a circle of acquaintances, noting that US government experts were predicting a vaccine in 12 to 18 months and wondering if a do-it-yourself project could move faster. He believed there was “already sufficient information” published about the virus to guide an independent project.
Estep says he quickly gathered volunteers, many of whom had worked previously with the Personal Genome Project (PGP), an open-science initiative founded in 2005 at Church’s lab to sequence people’s DNA and post the results online. “We established a core group, most of them [from] my go-to posse for citizen science, though we have never done anything quite like this,” says Estep, also the founder of Veritas Genetics, a DNA sequencing company
By: Amy Nordrum
Title: Some scientists are taking a DIY coronavirus vaccine, and nobody knows if it’s legal or if it works
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/29/1005720/george-church-diy-coronavirus-vaccine/
Published Date: Wed, 29 Jul 2020 04:05:00 +0000