Oxford University commences human trial for COVID19 vaccine

Representational Photo
Representational Photo

Oxford University is launching a human trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine, with the daunting aim of making a successful jab available to the public later this year.

Of the more than 100 research projects around the world tofind a vaccine — described by the United Nations as the only route back to"normality" — seven are currently in clinical trials, according tothe London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Such trials are already underway in China and the UnitedStates and are due to begin at the end of this month in Germany, where thefederal vaccine authority gave the green light on Wednesday.

The British government strongly supports Oxford University'swork, and the first human trials were to start on Thursday, Health MinisterMatt Hancock said. He hailed the "promising development", pointingout that it would normally take "years" to reach such a stage ofvaccine development.

In its first phase, half of 1,112 volunteers will receive thepotential vaccine against COVID-19, the other half a control vaccine to testits safety and efficacy.

The volunteers are aged between 18 and 55, are in goodhealth, have not tested positive for COVID-19 and are not pregnant orbreastfeeding.

Ten participants will receive two doses of the experimentalvaccine, four weeks apart.

Professor Sarah Gilbert's team hopes for an 80 per centsuccess rate, and plans to produce one million doses by September, with the aimof making it widely available by the autumn if successful.

But the teams carrying out this research say on theirwebsite that this timetable is "highly ambitious" and could change.

The government's chief medical officer Chris Whittyacknowledged on Wednesday that the likelihood of getting a vaccine within theyear was "incredibly small". "If people are hoping it's suddenlygoing to move from where we are in lockdown to where suddenly into everythingis gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation," he warned.

The strategy of not waiting for each step to be completedbefore launching production is a financial "gamble", according toNicola Stonehouse, professor of molecular virology at the University of Leeds.

But the current crisis makes it a necessary gamble, she toldAFP.

The Oxford vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus,which is modified to produce proteins in human cells that are also produced byCOVID-19. It is hoped the vaccine will teach the body's immune system to thenrecognise the protein and help stop the coronavirus from entering human cells.The adenovirus vaccine is known to develop a strong immune response with asingle dose and is not a replicating virus, so cannot cause infection, makingit safer for children, the elderly and patients with underlying diseases suchas diabetes.

The government, under fire in the media over its handling ofthe crisis, set up a task force last weekend to coordinate research efforts andto develop capability to mass-produce a vaccine as soon as it is available,wherever it comes from. It is also supporting research at Imperial CollegeLondon, which hopes to start clinical trials in June.

Their research focuses on a vaccine exploiting a differentprinciple, using RNA, the messenger molecules that build proteins in the cells,to stimulate the immune system. Finding a vaccine is the only possible way tobring the world back to "normality", UN Secretary-General AntonioGuterres warned last week, calling for an acceleration of projects.The UN on Monday adopted a resolution callingfor "equitable, effective and rapid" access to a possible vaccine.

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