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Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine trial set to begin this month

Human studies of Moderna Inc.’s experimental coronavirus vaccine are set to begin this month, positioning it to be first among a host of shots that companies are developing to fight the contagion.

The Moderna product is moving very rapidly and will enter human trials “within a couple of weeks,” said Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a group overseeing development of shots against deadly infections. The estimated start of a trial of Moderna’s vaccine is March 19, according to a US government website.

Moderna declined to comment.

As concerns about the lung virus mount, health officials and the public have been closely watching Cambridge-based Moderna’s progress. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in late February that the trials might begin within two months.

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Human tests of drugs and vaccines usually progress in three phases to evaluate such measures as safety and effectiveness. Moderna’s vaccine could hit the second phase of these tests as soon as this summer, Hatchett said.

“We’re working closely with Moderna, with our partners at NIH and with regulators to make sure any vaccine that is developed — I can’t underscore this enough — is safe and effective,” he said.

Shares of Moderna rose 5.71 percent Friday.

Participants haven’t yet received the vaccine, though the enrollment process has begun, the US institute said Friday in an e-mailed statement. The early stage trial will be held at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, it said.

The urgency is rising as the number of coronavirus cases globally surges past 100,000, but vaccine developers face a number of hurdles in getting a product to the finish line. A CEPI-coordinated push to deliver a vaccine against the coronavirus will be in jeopardy without almost $2 billion in additional funding, the organization said separately Friday.

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Vaccine developers have said it takes about 12 to 18 months to design and test new shots. Moderna’s approach is considered to be among the fastest-moving in the business.

“You never know what might trip a vaccine development program up,” such as manufacturing, purification or safety problems, Hatchett said. “What we do know is this one will be the first one to enter clinical trials globally, I’m 99 percent certain.”

The world would be “lucky” to have a vaccine against coronavirus within a year, UK Chief Medical Adviser Chris Whitty said earlier this week.