Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) announced on Wednesday that it's advancing its development of an experimental vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus strain that continues to spread across the world. The biotech stated that it has produced several nanoparticle-based vaccine candidates and is evaluating them in animal models in an effort to select the most promising one for testing in humans. Novavax expects to begin a phase 1 clinical study of a COVID-19 vaccine by late spring.

The company first announced that it was attempting to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in January. Novavax is a clinical-stage vaccine specialist, and previously developed experimental vaccines that showed promise in protecting against other coronaviruses, including those that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

Coronavirus vaccine bottles

Image source: Getty Images.

That experience enabled Novavax to quickly ramp up its efforts to target COVID-19. The company used its existing nanoparticle technology platform to engineer a number of candidates. It also expects to use the Matrix-M adjuvant it used with several of its other vaccine candidates to boost immune responses with its hopeful COVID-19 vaccine.

However, there is already a flurry of activity among other drugmakers scrambling to develop vaccines and antivirals targeting the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. The company that's farthest along right now appears to be Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) with its antiviral remdesivir, which it developed as a potential Ebola drug. A top World Health Organization official stated earlier this week that "[t]here is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir."