Two leading teams in the United Kingdom that are working towards a Covid-19 vaccine have been given the green-light to pursue fast-tracked clinical trials later this week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in a livestream that £20 million ($24 million USD) will now be available to researchers at the University of Oxford to fund an accelerated process trialing vaccinations in people beginning Thursday. An additional £22.5 million ($27.6 million USD) was given to Imperial College London who is also working on a vaccination.
Approving a vaccine is a time-consuming and tedious process that requires multiple testing phases to determine both its safety and efficacy, among other requirements. Given the growing threat of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the respiratory disease, officials say that exceptions will be made.
“In normal times, reaching this stage would take years and I’m very proud of the work taken so far,” said Hancock.
The Oxford Vaccine Group opened enrollment for healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 to begin clinical testing of the potential vaccine called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 in March, according to Clinical Trials Arena. First identified by Oxford’s Jenner Institute, ChAdOx1 is a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector that has been shown to generate a strong immune response from one dose. Because it is not a replicating virus, researchers say it will not go on to cause an infection after a person is vaccinated and is deemed safe for children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions. The vaccine also contains the genetic sequence of the coronavirus’ infamous surface spike protein, which is produced after vaccination and triggers an immune response, according to a statement released by researchers.
An editorial published in The Lancet profiling lead researcher Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford, noted that a £2.2 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research was awarded. Despite the potential ChAdOx1 shows, Gilbert expressed caution at projecting a timeline and hopes to have vaccinated 500 volunteers by the middle of next month before going on to conduct more trials in older age groups.
“The best-case scenario is that by the autumn of 2020, we have an efficacy result from phase 3 and the ability to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine, but these best-case timeframes are highly ambitious and subject to change,” said Gilbert. “Our ability to determine vaccine efficacy will be affected by the amount of virus transmission in the local population over the summer, and we are also beginning to think about initiating trials with partners in other countries to increase our ability to determine vaccine efficacy.”
The World Health Organization reports that there are at least 70 vaccine candidates, only a handful of which are in clinical evaluation. Last week, the UK government launched the Vaccine Taskforce in order to “drive forward, expedite, and coordinate efforts to research and then produce a coronavirus vaccine.” The plan to flatten the curve is working but there is much more work to be done, Hancock urges. More than 535,000 tests have now been carried out in the UK with over 129,000 of those testing positive. As of Tuesday, patients currently being treated in hospitals are down to just over 17,000 – about the same number of those who have died from the outbreak.