Human trials of an eagerly-awaited vaccine, developed by the prestigious Oxford University, against the novel coronavirus began in the UK on Thursday, with scientists giving it an 80 per cent chance of success.
The UK government has pledged 20 million pounds to support the “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19” coronavirus vaccine trial programme, with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the government would “throw everything at” finding a vaccine against the deadly virus.
“After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it,” he said.
The vaccine being trialled is made from a harmless chimpanzee virus that has been genetically engineered to carry part of the coronavirus to be tested on volunteers aged between 18 and 55 who are in good health.
Volunteers in the UK are being offered 625 pounds to take part in the landmark research, with a target of 500 to be enrolled by the middle of next month.
The Oxford vaccine project is headed by Professor Sarah Gilbert and other immunity and human genetics scientists who started work on designing a coronavirus vaccine in January this year.
“Although it seems like a very long time since the work started, in reality, it is less than four months since we first heard of an outbreak of severe pneumonia cases, and began to plan a response,” the team said in a statement.
“Our brilliant team has been working tirelessly to get to this point using our skills and experience in vaccine development and testing, and will do the best job possible in moving quickly whilst at all times prioritising the safety of the trial participants,” the statement added.
The trial for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 will be carried out through a collaboration between the Oxford Vaccine Group’s clinical teams and the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute.
The time it would require to determine if the vaccine is effective would be “heavily dependent” on how much virus transmission there is in the community – initially focussed on trial areas of Oxford and Southampton.
If there’s very low virus transmission among the volunteers that are vaccinated, the would have to wait a long time to get the result, explains Professor Gilbert. Therefore, the healthcare workers in hospitals, most likely to have been exposed to COVID-19, will be among the focus groups.
Meanwhile, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine manufacture is already being scaled up in preparation for larger trials.
“We really don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where the vaccine can show it’s safe, it gives strong immune responses and it protects people, but we haven’t got any doses to vaccinate anyone else with,” Gilbert said.
The optimistic time-frame being looked at for around a million doses is by September. Deals have been done with the UK and overseas manufacturers to make the vaccine at scale, should it prove effective.
Finding a vaccine that works against COVID-19 is a race against time as it is the only secure option for governments to ease the severe lockdown measures in place around the world to curb the rapid spread of the pandemic.