Scientists in the UK are charging ahead with their ambitious plan to have a coronavirus vaccine ready by September, announcing they will now begin testing on older people and children.
Researchers from the University of Oxford say they are “80 per cent confident” their experimental vaccine designed to block the virus from infecting the body will work, and it could be ready in just months if everything goes smoothly.
They began testing on healthy adult volunteers in April, with about 1,000 people immunised.
But on Friday the team announced it would now be recruiting another 10,200 people, including older adults aged over 70 and children aged between 5 and 12, to participate in the next two phases of trials.
“The clinical studies are progressing very well and we are now initiating studies to evaluate how well the vaccine induces immune responses in older adults, and to test whether it can provide protection in the wider population,” Professor Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said.
Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology who is leading the project, said there had been “a lot of interest already” from people over the age of 55 wanting to be involved.
HOW DOES THE VACCINE WORK?
The Oxford vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus which is a “weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infection in chimpanzees”.
It has been “genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans”, the Jenner Institute says.
RELATED: Oxford University human trials begin
The team have added genetic material from the COVID-19 virus including a particular Spike Glycoprotein which is involved in how the virus enters the body.
The aim is to “make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the Spike protein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection”, the researchers said
The injection has already been tested on monkeys with some positive results.
HOW WILL THE TRIALS WORK?
During the second and third phases of the clinical trial, a total 10,260 volunteers will be randomly given either one of two doses of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or another vaccine being used as a control for comparison.
To participate, the volunteers must be in good health and cannot be pregnant. They also cannot have already had the virus.
After receiving the injection, the volunteers will then be asked to keep a diary of how they’re feeling for the next seven days, as well as report if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus.
A blood test will then determine whether they’ve had an immune response to the vaccine.
“The main focus of the study is to find out if this vaccine is going to work against COVID-19, if it won’t cause unacceptable side effects and if it induces good immune responses,” the researchers said.
The team is hoping to recruit frontline health care workers who have a higher chance of being exposed to the virus, so the efficacy of the vaccine can be determined as soon as possible.
“If transmission (of the virus) remains high, we may get enough data in a couple of months to see if the vaccine works, but if transmission levels drop, this could take up to six months,” the researchers said.
The Oxford team started working on the vaccine on January 11, one day after the genome of the new virus was shared globally.
“The speed at which this new vaccine has advanced into late-stage clinical trials is testament to Oxford’s groundbreaking scientific research,” Mene Pangalos, the executive vice-president of BioPharmaceuticals R & D at AstraZeneca said.
But most experts still predict it will be another 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is ready for widespread use.
In April, about 100 research groups around the world were pursuing vaccines against the coronavirus, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start.
There have been more than 5.1 million cases of coronavirus around the world with 333,000 deaths, including 100 in Australia.