UK COVID-19 vaccine to begin testing for humans

  • Published | 29 April 2020

This week, as clinical trials on humans were approved in Germany and launched in the UK, the race to produce an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus has gathered momentum. While about 150 research projects are now being implemented worldwide, the German and British plans are among only five human clinical trials approved worldwide. An experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by researchers at Oxford University is to be tested in people coming from tomorrow 23rd April 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock reported.

The project received £20 m from the government to fund the vaccine production, named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. The study will include details on the vaccine's safety features, as well as its ability to develop an immune response to the virus. A collaboration between clinical teams of the University's Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Community, the trials recruit up to 510 volunteers who will either receive the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or a comparative control injection.

The health secretary has confirmed that £22.5 million has been allocated to a vaccine project at Imperial College London to help see it through phase II research and into the production of phase III. Since early February the team has been evaluating a candidate for an RNA vaccine in animals.

The Oxford trial is testing ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a candidate based on a modified chimpanzee adenovirus which includes the spike or 'S' protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19-causing virus.

The Imperial candidate was developed by a team led by Professor Robin Shattock and is an S-protein mRNA vaccine on SARS-CoV-2-utilizing a similar approach to a vaccine developed by U.S. biotech Moderna that is currently in clinical trials.

Imperial's mRNA vaccine has been in animal trials since early February, and may be ready for testing for human health in June. The team says they are pursuing additional philanthropic funding to conduct simultaneous international trials to accelerate development and ensure the vaccine is widely available worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. It will be tested in approximately 500 volunteers and will focus on protection and tolerability, as well as include an initial evaluation of how successful the shot is in stimulating immune response to SARS-CoV-2.

The self-amplifying RNA vaccine, when administered, should provide genetic guidance to muscle cells to create the 'spike' protein on the coronavirus surface, which will induce an immune response and create immunity to COVID-19.

"The only way to kill coronavirus in the long run is through a vaccine," Hancock said at a press conference yesterday. The UK is at the forefront of the global effort and two of the leading vaccine advances are taking place here at home, in Oxford and Imperial for all initiatives around the world."